Aug 11 2017

A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2

This is the second part of A Critique of Jeremy Corbyn and British Left Social Democracy, written by Allan Armstrong. the first part can be read at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/

 

2. EMANCIPATION, LIBERATION AND SELF-DETERMINATION AND INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW

IN RESPONSE TO NATIONAL SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, AND OFFICIAL AND DISSIDENT COMMUNIST

INTERNATIONALISM FROM ABOVE

 

Contents of Part 2

 a.     Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

 b.     The rise and fall of proto-parties outside Labour

 c.     To party or not to party, that is the question

 d.     Autonomous organisations

e.      International organisation

f.       Labour bureaucracy or dissident communist sects – a false choice 

______________

 a.      Why did Corbynism and Left social democracy appear in the UK?

i.      One thing that needs explained is how did Corbynism and Left social democracy make a revival which nobody predicted? If we look to Greece, Spain, Portugal, France and Ireland, we can see well-supported independent Left organisations, which have developed outside the traditional social democratic parties. One answer to this question is the sheer resilience of conservative organisational forms in a state like the UK with such a long and deep-rooted unionist and imperial history. Continue reading “A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY, Part 2”

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Jun 18 2012

DAVE DOUGLASS REVIEWS GREGOR GALL’S ‘TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO?’

Category: SSP and SWP,The crisis on the LeftRCN @ 6:45 pm

 

TOMMY SHERIDAN, FROM HERO TO ZERO? – A POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY 

Welsh Academic Press, 2012, pp384, £25

 

Tommy and Gail Sheridan: a giant conspiracy?

Given the still raw emotions, ongoing political bitterness and entrenched sectarian positions around Tommy Sheridan, this is a remarkably objective and balanced work. It is also extremely well written and presented.

The forces that would come to be centred on this rising star and his almost archetypal west Scottish working class persona could perhaps never have developed at   all, had it not been for an ideological shift in perceptions towards the independence process by far-left groupings north of the border. This is, of course, a vexed question, however, and this review is not the place to restage the contesting positions.

Tommy’s roots and political apprenticeship had been with the Militant Tendency, which developed his emerging talent for public speaking. Before the poll tax campaign – which really put Tommy in the right place with the right skills at just the right time – were a number of disputes, strikes and protests, which fine-tuned his talents for organisation, leadership and oratory. The poll tax gave rise to a truly mass community resistance movement of non-payment in the solid working class communities, and in 1990 there were huge demonstrations, with 40,000 marching in Glasgow and 200,000 in London.

It was the London demonstration rather than the mass community resistance which became the enduring memory of the campaign. Pitched battles raged in the centre of London – probably even more ferocious than anything the miners’ strike of five years earlier had involved. It was following this demonstration that Tommy became notorious for his condemnation of protestors’ violence and the implication that he would ‘name names’ – earning him the undying title of ‘grass’ among the anarchist left. Unhindered by such trifles in his Scottish base, he had become more and more publicly associated with resistance to warrant sales and bailiff actions and it was during this time that he was drawn towards left nationalism, and some of the people who would become his most reliable comrades.

Tommy’s high media profile and identity with Militant had soon marked him out for expulsion from the Labour Party. He was expelled in October 1989 – all members of the large Pollock constituency party were suspended. The general witch-hunt and widespread expulsion of Militant leaders from Labour, together with general unease with the whole clandestine entrist tactic, led to the break from the party and the establishment of Militant Labour – later to become the Socialist Party (in England and Wales).

Tommy’s star was rising. He was tireless and dynamic, a working class ‘man of the people’ filled with passion and charisma; instantly recognisable – groomed, tanned, always ‘on’. Having been jailed for ‘deforcement’ and breach of the peace, as well as contravening the terms of an interdict, he had used in classic style the court as a platform for class denunciation of the ‘war on the poor’.

In 1992 Sheridan stood twice for election while still in prison. In the April general election he came second to Labour, winning 19% of the votes cast (6,287) – on a platform that “Labour used to campaign on before its heart and soul were ripped out”. The following month he achieved a first by winning Pollok ward from his prison cell and becoming a Glasgow councillor.

In 1995 Alan McCombes, Tommy’s close friend and comrade, floated the idea of a Scottish Socialist Alliance, which would bring together all the existing socialist groups and be able to contest the forthcoming Scottish parliamentary elections. They also appealed to the Communist Party, Labour left and even the Liberation group of the Scottish National Party. It is perhaps telling that this initiative came about because of the monolithic centralism of Arthur Scargill and his newly formed Socialist Labour Party.

The emergent SLP had been seen as a catalyst which could act as a serious political pole to the left of the right-moving New Labour project. For a brief moment the SLP looked as though it might actually achieve something lasting and important, but it was not to be: it was conceived in the image of Scargill, and factions, rank-and-file control and democracy were not part of that image.

Tommy had brought SML and many others to the table, but Scargill refused any idea of an autonomous Scottish section, self-determination for Scotland or recognition of political factions within the SLP. Tommy had commented: “When Scargill threw down the gauntlet of a new socialist Labour Party we were excited. We wore Scottish socialist spectacles, but we took them off to see the broader picture and were keen to be involved with Arthur.” It was in Tommy’s words a “lost opportunity” – and not just for the Scottish working class.

But Scargill’s bureaucratic myopicism led to the foundation of the SSA, which in turn led to the creation of the Scottish Socialist Party. Had the SLP not been so afflicted, its Scottish section would have boasted a united platform, with Tommy at its head. Maybe it would have also kept Tommy’s feet more firmly on the ground. The total of 101,867 votes for the SLP and SSP in the 1999 Scottish parliamentary election ought to have produced two more MSPs in addition to Tommy.

The decision of SML to more or less wind up and transfer its resources over to the SSA was a bold and principled move, and marked for a time a healthy alternative to the SLP, already fully operating its regime of witch-hunts and membership ‘voiding’.

Tommy’s significance to the SSA was that he was a well known public figurehead, around which much of the Scottish left could unite in the same manner as the left might have been able to rally around Arthur Britain-wide. The SSA resolved that its candidates would not stand against other socialists or in marginal seats against Labour, where they could allow in the Tory. From the word ‘go’ it would recognise political tendencies and factions. The Scottish Socialist Alliance was formally launched on April 20 1996, with The Scotsman predicting that “such a rainbow coalition could dissolve in the sunlight”.

1999-2003 marked a great revival of radical socialist politics and growth in Scotland; it began with the election of Sheridan and concluded with him being joined by another five other Scottish Socialist Party MSPs. Election results and MSPs are not the only criteria of judgment, of course, but on any other yardstick too this period marked a high tide, and Tommy was central within it. He fully came of age when he was elected to the Scottish parliament. The iconic image which went across Scotland was of Tommy, fist clenched, taking the oath of allegiance under protest and duress.

Tommy saw himself as the mouthpiece of the movement. He used parliament to raise questions on particular strikes, and even the wages of parliamentary workers, and was a welcome guest at innumerable strike rallies and picket lines – often in the teeth of hostility from the union leadership.

The attitude of the press to Tommy started to sour around 2000 with his further arrest at Faslane during anti-Trident protests – the Daily Record labelled him “pillock no1” and first coined the phrase “working class zero” in relation to the SSP policy for the legalisation of cannabis. It was around this time too that the press started to dub him the “sun-tanned designer MSP”. He was, though, still writing articles for The Sunday Times, the Record and Evening Times, as well as for the Morning Star.

But it was becoming clear Tommy liked being centre stage. According to Felicity Garvie, Sheridan’s parliamentary office manager from 1999-2006 and a member of the SSP executive, “A fundamental weakness is that he is not a team player … when the other five were elected, I think it was a severe dent to his personal profile and position as leader of the party – the only SSP MSP and so on. You can call it personal pride or vanity, but I think he enjoyed being in that position” (p140).

 

‘Defamation’

Where did it all go wrong? It was a question of personal morality, tactics and judgment of principle. Tommy won a spectacular victory against the News of the World and News International for defamation in 2006, and probably became the most famous Scot in the world after Sean Connery. The whole ‘Tommygate’ affair ran from November 2004 to January 2011, ending with the demise of the champion of the underdog and the collapse of the SSP.

Essentially the NOTW had ‘exposed’ Tommy’s attendance at sex clubs – something he swore had not happened. He decided to play a huge game of bluff in the courts, believing “they’ve got fuck all on me” in the way of hard evidence. He had a choice – either face it down (‘So what? That’s my business’ being one possible response. This was a private matter for himself and his partner to sort out) or go for broke. And, because he believed the revelations, left unchallenged, would destroy him, he went for option two.

The biggest flaw in this strategy was that it was not just himself who stood to be broke if someone called his bluff or broke ranks. He obviously had not been alone in the ‘swingers’ clubs – loads of other punters had been there, people who recognised him and saw him on more than one occasion. The EC of the SSP, as soon the accusations surface, calls a special meeting to discuss the crisis on November 9 2004. Since members of the EC know he is a regular attender at the Cupids club in Manchester, he comes clean and owns up to them, while announcing his belief that the NOTW has no evidence and they will settle at the door of the court. Very reluctantly the EC goes along with this and agrees to stay shtum, on the grounds that Tommy resigns his post as SSP convenor for “personal reasons”. The meeting is, of course, minuted.

In late 2001 Tommy had attended Cupids with a freelance journalist, who went on to try and sell what looked like an ace scoop. News of this got back to the EC and Alan McCombes confronted him over it. Although at first he denied it, he later confirmed within the organisation that it was true. Stories also started to circulate about an orgy at the Moat House Hotel in Glasgow.

The advice of the NEC was to admit it and fight the attacks on him as a private matter rather than an issue of personal morality. Tommy disagreed, but 21 members of the SSP EC had attended the four-hour meeting, where he recited all the facts. Then there was George McNeilage, who just for the record makes a secret tape of what is essentially a confession. When the full minutes were written up they read:

“… The meeting began with an introduction by Tommy Sheridan, He responded to a recent article in the News of the World which alleged a married MSP had visited a swingers/sex club in Manchester in company of a female journalist who had now written a book about her lifestyle. Tommy admitted to the meeting that he had in fact visited the club on two occasions, in 1996 and 2002, with close friends … He reported that he had met with Keith B and Alan Mc and asked them for the opportunity to fight this on his own and for other party members if questioned about it to either give no comment or refer all questions to himself. He said he was confident there was no proof in existence he had visited the club, Tommy said he was not prepared to resign as convenor unless proof was revealed to exist. His strategy was to deny the allegations and in this regard he had already taken advice from NUJ solicitors …”

The minutes record without exception (other than Tommy, who left the meeting before any votes were taken) that all contributors disagreed with the strategy of denying the allegations: “All felt this would be most damaging for the party… All agreed it would be better if Tommy changed his mind about denying the allegations.”

Tommy then resigns as convenor of the party after further deputations from the EC failed to persuade him against fighting a defamation action. In a press statement the SSP comments: “We understand that recent allegations in a Murdoch newspaper may be the subject of a future libel action by Tommy Sheridan and consequently the Scottish Socialist Party does not wish to comment on matters concerning the allegation.” Tommy requests that the minutes of the EC meeting at which he admits the visits should not be distributed. This was agreed.

From here on in Tommy begins to play out the perfectly aggrieved and outraged innocent, fighting the anti-union, anti-socialist press monolith. The subterfuge could never be publicly admitted despite it being almost widespread knowledge within the SSP. What also clearly starts to happen is Tommy and later his supporters get so deeply into the role that they clearly forget they are playing a bluff and that the allegations are actually true. As things turned out, regardless of Sheridan’s victory in the defamation action, the SSP was split. Many thought it unprincipled in the extreme to risk the political reputation of the organisation to effectively save the political skin of one its MSPs. The majority of the EC decided to tell the truth when forced by the NOTW to give evidence.

 

Rewriting history

The author comments: “It seems Tommy subscribed to the principle that the truth is what you make it and that one of the spoils of victory is to write its history” (p173). Many individuals as well as parts of the organised left gave legitimacy to Tommy’s methods – including the distortions, lies and character assassination employed against those who would not play the game. He believed that if he dropped the court case, his guilt and misjudgement would be established and he would have no chance of coming back to lead the party and regain his old stardom. So he determined to prove that black was white and those who said otherwise were traitors.

But first he had a lot of knitting to undo – not least because he had told a whole room of people at the November 9 2004 EC that he had visited Cupids and then resigned because of that admission. He even claimed that the EC minutes, which the SSP had agreed to withhold from the NOTW, had been fake. McCombes, who had strongly advised Tommy against his course of action, was actually jailed for contempt for refusing to hand over the minutes, but this did not save him from the designation of traitor by Tommy and his supporters.

In numerous TV, radio and press interviews he did indeed argue that black was white. In order to do this he was forced to charge all his former comrades who had decided to tell the truth with conspiring with the NOTW and the state against him. “In the 2006 case, Tommy constructed the fabrication that the 11 SSP members [who gave evidence against him] were guilty of ‘the mother of all stitch-ups’ against him and of perjuring themselves in court to do so.” Meantime the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales condemned the SSP for forcing Tommy to resign as convenor before the case.

The News of the World did not, however, cave in, as Tommy had expected, claiming that its story was “substantially true”. So the defamation case started in Edinburgh Court of Session on July 4 2006 and ended after 23 days on August 4. Tommy was suing for £200,000. His rationale was that the case was not about truth or lies, but what could and could not be proved. His strategy was not so much to cast doubt on the evidence, but on the process by which the evidence was accumulated and upon the character of the witnesses. The trial saw News International call 24 witnesses, including the 11 SSP EC members who had attended the November 2004 ‘admission’ meeting. Among them were some who had been Tommy’s closest comrades and friends. It is perhaps worth reminding readers, in light of the accusations of ‘grass’ and ‘scab’, that all of them were there against their will: they could not legally refuse to be indicted and once on the stand under oath, their options were either to lie and perjure themselves, and so risk legal sanction and other consequences, or simply tell the truth. That they were in that position was entirely due to Tommy’s ill-advised choice of action rather than their own universal view to let the charge ride and face it down as an attack on his private life.

Calling his own wife, Gail, to the stand to give evidence on his behalf was a master stroke: “What is clear is that Gail played a key and starring – almost theatrical – role, when cross-examined by Tommy … saying with tears that if the allegations were true ‘You would be in the … Clyde with a piece of concrete tied around you and I would be in court for your murder’” (p182). He was also supported by Steve Arnott of the Highlands and Islands Branch SSP; he suggested that it had been “mass delusion” which had caused 11 fellow EC members to recollect Tommy admitting the Cupids visits.

The media reported Tommy’s 85-minute submission as “spellbinding” and “barnstorming”. One said it was “the best speech of his career”. After 160 minutes of deliberation the jury found seven to four in favour of Tommy and awarded him the maximum damages of £200,000. The author speculates, soundly in my view, as to whether the jury actually believed Tommy or just did not want him to lose at the hands of the hated News of the World.

Having won an outstanding victory (and pulled off what was effectively a massive con), perhaps he would then try to repair the damage done to the party he had previously given so much to? Not at all. Instead he negotiates an exclusive deal with NOTW’s main rival, the Daily Record, for £20,000 plus expenses. His story is serialised day by day for a week. Gregor Gall comments that Tommy seemed to forget the relish the paper would have “in printing stories which helped further undermine the SSP” (p186). In the process he continues to attack the SSP EC as scabs, perjurers and collaborators with the enemy. This nailed any hope of ever reconciling the organisational division.

Worse, having being so accused, those reluctant witnesses for the NOTW now had a vested interest in clearing their names and reputations and went onto the counteroffensive. Barbara Scott, the EC’s minute-taker, hands over to Lothian and Borders police her hand-written original minutes of the November 2004 meeting. This sets in chain a perjury enquiry and the NOTW, which now also had access to George McNeilage’s video recording of Tommy admitting to his attendance at sex parties, smells revenge. The whole mess is thrown back into the public arena. Tommy was charged with perjury on December 16 2007.

He had by then set up a new political grouping, Solidarity. It too was based on no more than the desire to turn an elaborate lie into the truth: Tommy is an honest advocate of principle, while the SSP is full of traitors and grasses. Solidarity’s reaction was that this was all “a colossal vendetta by the Rupert Murdoch empire … which is rooted in [Tommy’s] role of leader of the anti-poll tax movement”. His hope was that only he of the six SSP MSPs would be returned to the Scottish parliament following the scandal and split. Thus he and Solidarity would now be able to claim the SSP’s former mantle and start to retake its ground. In reality that election night in 2007 saw all vestiges of radical socialist presence wiped out. The combined SSP-Solidarity vote only achieved a third of what the SSP had polled in 2003. But Tommy claimed the vote had not been affected by either the court case or the split.

When in November 2009 Tommy stands for the Glasgow North Westminster by-election, he is fifth, beaten even by the British National Party – the least ‘Scottish’ and least ‘socialist’ party standing – and he loses his deposit. His vote in the June 2009 European election, where he runs on the No2EU ticket, is worse – he does not hit 1%. Later calls for both Solidarity and SSP to cooperate within a Scottish version of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition were always going to fall on deaf ears, given the bad blood.

The perjury case begins at the end of 2010. After six hours of deliberation on December 23 the jury found Tommy guilty of wilfully and knowingly making false statements under oath. It judged him to be the MSP in the News of the World story of October 2004, that he had visited Cupids, had admitted this to the SSP EC and had had sexual relations with Katrine Trolle – another NOTW allegation he had denied. The split decision of eight against six shows he nearly – just nearly – pulled it off again, one might say regardless of the evidence (the author calls his case “thin and threadbare”).

Despite the verdict Tommy acknowledged nothing, admitted nothing. He remained defiant, claiming that his downfall was related to the News International phone-hacking scandal in some unspecified way.

 

Moralising

The book is minutely researched and, given its scope, decidedly easy to read and follow. However, if I have any criticism it would be of the chapter on Tommy’s alleged sexual predilection (beginning roughly on p264). From a discussion of facts and real events, suddenly we are catapulted into a priori reasoning based upon highly dubious value judgments about what is and what is not acceptable sexual morality.

I should clarify perhaps that I am not talking here of the criticism of Tommy’s disastrous sex club visits and semi-public orgies, nor his absurd decision to turn reality on its head by denying them. These are disastrous from a political point of view, given his position in the movement. No, those criticisms are well made and I would agree with them.

Rather this chapter goes beyond political considerations. It contains massively patronising assumptions about the ability of “young women” – or rather their inability – to decide for themselves whether they engage in sexual activity and with whom. Consent is not actual consent because of Tommy’s apparent “authority” and “power” over them. Tommy is asked by one of the comrades after a one-night stand with a young (consensual ) member, “What are your expectations here?” Eh? Tommy might well have answered, ‘What the fuck has that got to do with you?’ and he would have been right. The idea that a brief sexual encounter requires some ongoing commitment or ‘meaningful relationship’ is just so much bourgeois moralist shite.

Similarly the use of the prefix “vulnerable” before “women” at once renders the woman childlike: a victim, unable to actually know what she is actually consenting to. What is it that makes her “vulnerable”? It seems simply her youth – there is no need for any evidence. In other words, a social workers’ charter to interfere in everyone’s lives on the basis of their own, very narrow judgmental yardstick. “Vulnerable” applies to anyone doing something our betters think they should not do.

SSP Glasgow organiser Richie Venton is given reign to ‘out’ Tommy’s sexual practices and offer a psychological analysis of the man with no authority other than this is what he thinks: that is, it is nothing more than his own (probably very jealous, hypocritical and moralising) opinion. This then becomes a springboard for a whole construct of historical patterns and sexual behavioural dysfunction – again with nothing more than the a priori social-worker reasoning mentioned earlier. Tommy’s assertion that “sex was a form of recreation” is quoted as some huge admission of guilt. It is a quote I suspect most of us would have subscribed to in happier moments of our lives – and why not? Many of Tommy’s sexual exploits detailed in the chapter on the subject could be those of almost any young working class lad.

Behind this reasoning is the sort of rationale which takes as its starting point that heterosexuality is basically a ‘bloke thing’, that it is essentially exploitative by its very nature. The reactionary bourgeois feminist notion that men are the enemy and heterosex is something women are subjected to. Men flaunting their sexuality in the way Tommy had ought never under these criteria to be accepted, as would, say, homosexual men behaving in the same way. This chapter is by far the weakest in the whole book and represents a sharp diversion from the rest of the exposition; it would have been far stronger without it. But I mention that very much as an irritating aside which does not in any way characterise the book as a whole.

 

Contribution

Tommy’s contribution to the development of a new wave of radical socialist organisation and aspiration in Scotland is beyond question. He was a somebody in the fight for socialism; his work on the streets, on the picket line and in organising a mass fightback was invaluable. He took parliament seriously and was a highly effective parliamentarian. He was also a champion organiser and party-builder, especially between 1999 and 2003.

What makes this whole story a tragedy is that all of this was brought to a crashing end by Tommy’s own catastrophic errors of judgment – one has to ask if his grip on reality slipped to the point where he no longer knew fact from fiction. Tommy’s impact on the working class struggle is called into question by the extent to which we think his latter failings destroyed his early positive contribution – a question often asked in relation to Arthur Scargill (and indeed, on a rather grander scale, in relation to the Soviet Union). Has the damage done during their degeneration made the overall situation for our class worse now than it would have been without them? Such is pure speculation and history cannot be wound back and replayed.

Tommy Sheridan gambled away his most precious achievements – his name, his credibility, the trust and respect of large swathes of the Scottish working class. The crazy thing is that none of the subsequent loss was due actually to his sexual behaviour: it was all down to the very public elaboration of a huge lie. He was jailed not for being a red or because of his sexual appetite, but for being a liar and a fabricator; in the court of public opinion he was convicted of being a hypocrite.

What sparked his bizarre road to destruction? One can only conclude it was his vanity and love of power and the limelight, and a fear of being confronted with a reality of himself which did not fit the carefully manufactured public image that he – and the SSP leadership – had worked so long to create. Tommy is still a highly public figure and still wishes to make a contribution, it seems. But one feels that without a totally public and honest, critical assessment of past mistakes, facing up to the disastrous road of falsehood and distortion he embarked upon in order to save his political skin, that contribution will be permanently crippled. It is in recognition of the need to assess the past in order to move forward that the old communist principle of self-criticism still holds good.

But the evidence seems to suggest that, rather than confront the past and come clean in order to make an honest reassessment of his life and move forward, he still persists with the lie. In the wake of the NOTW scandal Tommy’s phone was found to have been hacked too. Undoubtedly this was more to do with the racket to expose celebs’ private sexual lives in order to sell newspapers than a political conspiracy to frame a socialist activist. That the NOTW hated Tommy’s politics is beyond doubt; that this made any difference whatever to the unrolling of events is, however, highly unlikely. It was Tommy’s refusal to listen to the sound advice of comrades and friends which was the cause of his downfall, not any actions by the NOTW or sections of the state out to get him. That Tommy’s supporters and he himself have clutched at this straw of new evidence against the NOTW is proof that they still do not get it and as such will be unable to move on. Prospects for re-uniting the two SSP and Solidarity factions are nil, but frankly even if they come back together it is now too late to regain the SSP’s earlier reputation and standing in the class. Both are now like deflated balloons, abandoned after a wedding from which the guests have all departed.

There are sadly other comparisons one could draw with this case – not only Scargill, but Derek Hatton comes to mind – where there has been a tendency by a shrinking band of followers to say ‘My leader, right or wrong’ and to forgive or excuse even the biggest deviation from socialist practice and honesty in some misguided ‘loyalty’ that conflates the leader with the cause. There is a sound anarchist slogan, ‘Too many chiefs, not enough anarchists’ – in fact in the case of the SSP and SML mass involvement, mass leadership and mass democracy were not practised. A small, tightly knit cabal of individuals practically ran the whole show, with Tommy increasingly at its centre. Tommy became the basket in which the SSP put all its political eggs and its total reputation.

That he was aware of his crucial strategic position within the organisation and the class at large in Scotland, yet still behaved in a way which would lay them wide open to devastating attack marks crass irresponsibility. That he compounded all of this by playing a huge game of poker with nothing but bluff and blather, knowing the entire SSP survival depended on it, and against the universal advice of his comrades, throws into doubt his values, certainly his judgment. But the SSP itself, had it been built as a revolutionary organisation, would have recognised this and taken measures early on to stop it happening.

The left and labour movement has to learn the lesson brought at such cost by Tommy Sheridan’s actions – not least to stop defending the politically irresponsible actions of our leaders.

 

(This review was first posted on the Weekly Worker website at:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004849)

* Dave Douglass was a leading militant in South Yorkshire NUM. He is currently a member of the IWW. He has written a three part autobiography, Geordies – Wa Mental, The Wheel’s Still in Spin and Ghost Dancers. He made an earlier contribution to Emancipation & Liberation in issue no. 7 (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2004/03/02/the-debate-continues-the-jacobites-strike-back/)

Gregor Gall also has an article on our website – The End of the Union? – The opportunities and problems facing the SNP government. This can be found at:- 

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/27/after-may-5th-a-looming-constitutional-crisis/

_______________________

 

We have posted the RCN sources used in Gregor’s book. They can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/02/11/gregor-gall-tommy-sheridan-biography-sources/ 

 

Mary MacGregor’s  review of Alan McCombe’s book, Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/10/23/mary-macgregor-reviews-downfall-the-tommy-sheridan-story-by-alan-mccombes/

 

Allan Armstrong’s The Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/01/10/the-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

The RCN statement after the Sheridan Perjury Trial can be found at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/02/03/rcn-statement-following-the-tommy-sheridan-perjury-trial/

 

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Apr 06 2012

THE SILENT RETREAT OF THE UNITED LEFT ALLIANCE

The following article was first posted on the Socialist Democracy (Ireland) website.

At its formation the United  Left  Alliance (ULA) appeared to represent a new  resurgence of the Socialist  Movement in Ireland. It brought together a number of different socialist groups, obtained a significant number of votes and representation in the Dail, and put forward an uncompromising revolutionary position with the call to repudiate the  debt  – that Irish workers would not pay to save capitalism to save bankers and speculators.

Politically and organisationally it has retreatedfrom that early promise. The first convention in June was large but politically confused and the main economic discussion centred on a return to the punt rather than repudiation of the debt. Its energy was dissipated in workshops while the real decisions were made elsewhere. Attempts to build a mass demonstration against the budget in September led to a relatively small demonstration subordinate to the trade union bureaucracy.

Early attempts to build a rank and file movement were replaced with much more moderate and a political calls to reclaim the  unions. Attempts to increase ULA representation by campaigning for Ruth Coppanger in the Dublin West by­election were stymied. The major attempt to build a mass campaign around the household charge was not organised by  the  ULA  –  indeed a section of  that campaign insisted that  it was non­-political and  demanded that the ULA be invisible.

However, a statement  by  the Socialist  Party (SP) ruling out  the  possibility  of the ULA being the vehicle for a new party set a sharp brake on the project. The  mid­-January statement  said:

 “Moving to establish a party without the actual involvement of significant numbers of ordinary working  class  people, would lead to it becoming  an  irrelevant  political  sect.  The ULA is not the new  party,  nor  is  it  likely  to  just  become  the new party at some future date.  The ULA is  an  alliance  that  fights  on  issues,  outlines  a  left  and  socialist  alternative  and  crucially  popularises  the  idea  of  a  new  party.  A new party will most likely come from the likes of  the  ULA combining with  community  and  workers’  campaigns  and  struggles.  The Household Tax campaign can involve thousands of people in political activity up and down the country, creating the potential basis for a new party.  ULA members should get fully involved in this struggle”.  

The statement ended with a call  for  activists  to  join  the  Socialist Party.

Yet, in truth, the ULA was  not  operating  as  an  alliance.  The level of co­operation between the constituent  groups  is  at  a  much  lower  level  than  that,  with  each  group  running  their  own  campaigns:  the  SP  and  a  referendum  campaign  and  a  partitionist  trade  union  front  in  the  North,  the  Socialist Workers Party  (SWP) and  their  “Enough”  campaign.  The groups compete for recruits, convinced  that  they  themselves will be the new party of the  working class.  The alliance has in fact  established  itself  as  a  brand  name  or  franchise.   It has established an effective website that carries  a  flood  of  statements  from  TDs,  without  any  coherent  connection  between  them.  Its operation is through an ad ­hoc  “steering  committee”  which  raises  questions  over  the  democratic  credentials  of the group.

Many of these weaknesses  are  recognised  and  acknowledged  by  activists  inside  and  outside  the  ULA.    What is  not  so  clearly  seen  is  that  there  has  been  a  political  retreat  by  the  socialist  movement on the basis for a workers resistance.

The problem is that the ULA, in a December  budget  statement, had  retreated from a wholesale call to repudiate the debt to the much more limited call for a halt to all payments related to paying  for the  private  debt of  the banks.  The major thrust of the statement, not open to general discussion by the membership  in advance  of  its  publication, was  a  thoroughly  reformist  call  on the  capitalist  government  to  invest  for  growth  –  something  totally  impossible  for  a  government  committed  to  austerity,  to  the  bailout  and  under  the  control  of  the  troika.  The effect is to put  the  ULA  alongside  the  trade  union  leadership  who  claim  that  there  is  a  better  fairer  was  for  capitalism  to  operate,  while  in  practice  actively  implementing the austerity.

The ULA steering committee has now  agreed  a  conference  at  the  end  of  April.  It appears that diplomatic agreement  has  been  reached  to  include  individual  branches  in  the  steering  committee  and  to  some  extent  increase  the  level  of  democracy inside the alliance.

In the view of Socialist Democracy this is not sufficient. The ULA cannot balance between an organisation with individual members and branches on the one hand and an alliance  of  existing  groups  on  the other.  Much more important  is  the  need  for  a  working  class programme. It is time  to  stop  pretending  that  the  coalition  and  the  troika will adopt an investment for growth programme and stop pretending  that  the  union  bureaucracy’s  “better  fairer  way”  has  any  meaning.  We must stop ignoring the fact that the country has been occupied by the ECB and IMF.

Our focus must be the working  class. We must call on the workers to repudiate the  debt, to wage unremitting war against  cuts  and  closures,  to  set  up  new organisations  independent  of  other  class  forces,  to  seize  control  of  resources  and  capital  abandoned by the capitalists.

People can unite or not unite  as  they  choose. They can build any sort  of organisation. What they must  do  is  try to represent the interests of the working class. This is the burning issue.

(see http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/Bulletins.html#SD%20Bulletin%20March%202012)

________________________

Appeal from Socialist Democracy (Ireland) to the United Left Alliance members for a new working class party, May 2012

The crisis of capital and the all-out offensive on the working class continues to unfold. The failure of traditional leaderships means that the workers must develop new structures, new forms of struggle if they are to resist being crushed. The most important structure to unite struggles is a new working class party.

Socialists in the United Left Alliance should fight for such a party. They should fight for the most democratic structure possible, allowing the fullest discussion and analysis closely linked to common action and exploring all the possibilities of resistance open to the working class.

The central elements of the resistance should be:

Opposing utterly the austerity policy pursued by successive Irish governments and supervised by the Troika. 

We oppose the immediate aim of the austerity – that the workers pay the debts of the bondholders or any part thereof.

We oppose the goal of restructuring, aimed at driving wages, services and conditions down in an indefinite race to the bottom.

We assert that there are no “better, fairer ways” to pay the bondholders. A worker’s economic programme to provide jobs and services would require immediately the tearing up all promissory notes and the expulsion of the troika.

The ULA should oppose the trade union leadership’s collaboration in the imposition of austerity. We call for the scrapping of the Croke Park agreement and urge the building of a rank and file trade union network that will unite workers across union structures and allow them to organize against collaboration both inside and outside the unions.

 

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Dec 23 2011

BEYOND THE SSP AND SOLIDARITY – ‘FORGIVE AND FORGET’ or ‘LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON’?

INTRODUCTION

 

The rise and initial success of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), between 1998-2004, was a significant historical event, not only for the history of the Left in Scotland (with knock-on effects in the UK and Europe), but also in the wider world of Scottish politics. It is therefore vital that we account for this success, despite the SSP’s subsequent fall from grace. This record can not just be left to cynical media and academic figures who have claimed that the SSP project was always doomed from the start, so we should all just accept the current world order and make the best of it.  Nor can we leave the accounting to those Jeremiahs in their ‘revolutionary’ sects, who cover their own inability to grow significantly, by issuing their anathemas and pouring scorn on those who try.

Before the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg said that the choice facing humanity then was ‘Socialism or Barbarism’. Istvan Meszaros has modified this for today’s crisis-ridden world of corporate imperialism, with its austerity drives, mounting environmental degradation, and the continued threat to humanity posed by weapons of mass destruction. He claims that the choice we face now is  – ‘Socialism or barbarism if we are lucky’!

Therefore, to provide new hope, we must account for the factors that contributed to the initial success of the SSP, and see what can still be useful in the future. However, any meaningful accounting also means identifying those weaknesses, which contributed to the SSP’s decline, so that these are not repeated.

Many, from either side of the ‘Tommygate’ divide, still hold fond enough memories of “the good old days” before the split, to hope that something like the SSP can be built again. Recently, some have even been tempted to say, “Let us forgive and forget”. This may sound attractive, in the face of the current unprecedented attacks on our class. However, such a stance would just lead to the repeat of earlier mistakes, perhaps in more desperate situations.

This contribution, which is also based on a strong desire to rebuild that lost unity, argues that to be successful in such an endeavour, we need instead to ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Then we can indeed recreate socialist unity, but on a higher basis. We must take account of those challenges, which the SSP failed to meet, to better prepare ourselves for those that we will certainly meet in the future.

 

1. THE STRENGTHS OF THE SSP

a)          Politics

The drive for greater socialist unity in Scotland originated in the experience of the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign. This drew together socialists and communists from diverse backgrounds in a successful struggle against the Tories and their official Labour Party helpers – one of the very few.  Later campaigns against water privatisation, the Criminal Justice Bill, and in support of the Liverpool Dockers, also brought socialists and communists in Scotland together in common campaigns.

Militant, a section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), led by Peter Taffe, had learned, through the bitter experience of the Liverpool Council Fightback and the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign, that conducting a successful major struggle was incompatible with membership of the Labour Party (LP), and that Labour is an anti-working class party that acts as a block to socialism.

The CWI majority (1) formed Scottish Militant Labour (SML) to challenge Labour more effectively. However, SML went beyond this, and drew upon the experience of those earlier working class campaigns. With the help of others, they initiated the wider Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA), in 1996, to draw in these forces, as well as those members in the Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (SNP) concerned about their parties’ rightwards drift. In the process, the CWI in Scotland changed from being the organisationally independent SML to becoming the International Socialist Movement (ISM), a platform in the new SSA. They called for the unity of socialists in Scotland.

The size of SML/ISM was important. Others had called for socialist unity before the SML had been able to ditch its Labour Party entrist past, and to seriously consider such an initiative.  However, it needed an organisation with a certain critical mass to make any such unity initiative gel.  In Ireland, for example, there have been a number of politically experienced people who were inspired by the example of the SSA/SSP. They formed the Irish Socialist Network to bring about such socialist unity there. However, they have not had the critical mass to create an Irish Socialist Alliance, then to build this up into an Irish Socialist Party.

The ISM wanted to build a wider organisation, which was not just a front for its own tendency – something that proved a stumbling block for the Socialist Alliance in England (and Wales), where ISM’s parent organisation, the CWI, prevented this. This problem was highlighted there by the competitive sectarianism of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the CWI/Socialist Party (SP) (as Militant later became in England and Wales).

The ISM also wanted the SSA to move quickly beyond being an alliance, which might end up as little more than an electoral non-aggression pact between different participating organisations. Today, in Ireland, this remains a strong danger with the recently formed United Left Alliance (ULA). The ULA is heavily constrained in any attempt to move forwards to a new united party by the desire of its two major components, the CWI/SP-Ireland and People before Profit (an Irish SWP front), to preserve their own control above all else. The SSA, however, was able to move on and become the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998.

When it was founded, the SSA drew in other political groups or some of their key activists. Allan Green had pushed from the start to get the Socialist Movement (socialists in the LP) signed up, whilst Bill Bonnar of the Communist Party of Scotland, and George Mackin, former member of the editorial board of Liberation (socialist Republicans in the SNP) joined up.  Members of the Trotskyist United Secretariat for the Fourth International (USFI) in Scotland joined, although they did not constitute themselves as a platform. The Red Republicans, who emerged from the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle in the Lothians, and the Dundee-based Campaign for a Federal Republic also joined. These two organisations later merged, on a new political basis, to form another SSA platform, the Republican Communist Network (RCN). The SSA soon threw itself into activity in support of the Glacier workers’ occupation in Glasgow, then in a variety of actions to save schools and other council facilities.

By 2002, all the major political groups in Scotland were in one political organisation (2) – the SSP. The SSP eventually included left Scottish nationalists, e.g. the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement (SRSM), many in the ISM, and some ex-SNP’ers; left British unionists, e.g. the CWI, SWP, Workers Unity (3) and some ex-Labourists; and socialist republicans, e.g. the RCN and others. Key figures from the Labour and SNP Lefts joined, e.g. John McAllion and Ron Brown (ex-Labour MPs), Hugh Kerr (ex-Labour MEP), Lloyd Quinan (ex-SNP MSP). The SSP included socialist and radical Feminists, and a small number of green Socialists (4).

Tommy Sheridan (former SML) was elected to Holyrood in 1999. He was re-elected, along with Frances Curran and Colin Fox (both former SML), Rosemary Byrne (former president of Irvine Trades Council), Carolyn Leckie (prominent Unison activist and strike leader) and Rosie Kane (environmental activist), in 2003. An impressive 117,709 votes were gained in this election. Keith Baldassara (former SML) and Jim Bollan (former CP member and Labour leader of Dunbartonshire Council) were also elected as local councillors. This was a considerable achievement. It showed that the SSP had become an important force amongst a significant section of class-conscious workers in Scotland.

SSP MSPs were seen to give public support to workers in struggle, including nursery nurses and working class communities occupying threatened public services. Tommy had been very publicly arrested in 2003, whilst Rosie was jailed for failing to pay a fine in 2005, as a result of the protests they made at the Faslane nuclear base. This highlighted the SSP’s policy of committing its elected representatives to taking direct action when it was deemed appropriate. The SSP policy of having a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage was actually implemented by the SSP MSPs between 1999 and 2007.

The SSP provided inspiration for the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, and for the Irish Socialist Network. It also formed a part of the new European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). The SSP inspired the USFI, including its largest European section, the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) in France. They later went on to form the wider New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) in 2009.

After the split in 2006, the SSP continued to form part of the EACL, standing candidates under its banner in the Euro-elections of 2009, whilst the breakaway Solidarity retreated into the left British chauvinism of the No2EU campaign (5).

The SSP played a prominent part in the build-up of the Anti-War Movement, beginning in October 2001 with its principled and active opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and culminating, on February 15th 2003, with the massive Anti-Iraq War demonstration in Glasgow, led by the Scottish Coalition for Justice not War. The many marches, held all over the world on that day, formed the largest international demonstration yet witnessed (6).

The SSP played the leading part in organising the wider European Left opposition to the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in July 2005. Four of its MSPs, Carolyn, Colin, Frances and Rosie organised a protest in Holyrood against its failure to stand up to US/UK security force attempts to severely curtail the right to protest at Gleneagles. The four MSPs were suspended and the party was heavily fined. This led to international solidarity, including support from the acclaimed black poet, Benjamin Zephaniah (7).

The SSA and SSP leaderships recognised that there is a National Question in Scotland and that socialists should consciously address it. Although left Scottish nationalism remained a strong pull on the leaderships of the SSA and later the SSP, republicanism made considerable inroads. The party backed the Calton Hill Declaration, and the successful protest at the royal opening of the new Scottish Parliament building on October 9th, 2004. This was the last SSP big event to gain favourable wider publicity (8).

The SSP contained a well-organised Feminist element with articulate women prominent in the party. The hotly debated and controversial 50:50 rule, addressing the issue of women’s representation at all levels of the party, was passed at the SSP’s 2002 Conference in Dundee. This contributed to the election of four women out of a total of six SSP MSPs in May 2003 – the highest percentage for any party in Europe.

The SSP was also able to draw support from influential cultural figures, e.g. the Proclaimers, Belle and Sebastian, Peter Mullen and Ken Loach.

At the height of its success between 1999 and 2004, the SSP enabled socialist politics to gain a public visibility. This meant that the ideas put forward by openly declared socialists became the topic of conversation, discussion and debate in workplaces and communities throughout Scotland.

 

b)          Organisation

With the founding of the SSA in 1996, the CWI/SML committed its resources and experienced organisers, at national and local level, to the new organisation. As ISM platform members, they took responsibility for developing the SSA, and later the SSP. However, in many areas, particularly where there was little or no ISM presence, other experienced socialist and communist activists played a key role in developing local branches, and exerting pressure to ensure that democratic practice became more embedded in the SSA and SSP, and to encourage the development of an open, non-sectarian culture.

A majority amongst the ISM, who constituted the SSA and SSP leaderships, appreciated the need to exercise a less tight political control over the SSA and SSP membership than the CWI leadership had desired. The ISM was more prepared to listen to suggestions from people who came from other political backgrounds, and with these comrades’ help, the SSA was able to develop open active branches and democratic structures.

Thus, the ISM majority (9) made a considerable contribution to building a wider more inclusive SSA (later SSP). This provided a striking contrast to the behaviour and unity initiatives undertaken by their original CWI mentors. The CWI/SP walked out of the Socialist Alliance in England, when they could not dominate it  (that role was left to the SWP!). Their Campaign for a New Workers Party has proved abortive, because of its inability to attract or hold on to wider socialist forces, whilst the Trade Union and Socialist (electoral) Coalition is turned on and off according to the needs of the CWI/SP. The CWI (and SWP) treats any unity initiative either as a ‘party’-front or as a recruiting ground. Therefore, the ISM’s support for developing an inclusive multi-platform party did represent a considerable achievement, and a big break from the Left’s past sectarian practice.

Platform rights were allowed and respected to a considerable degree. The SSA and SSP constituted a united front of self-declared revolutionaries and left reformists. Comrades could openly state their support for revolutionary politics. A real culture of debate and comradeliness developed in the SSA and SSP, which for a time was even able to rein in some of the sectarian practices of the CWI and SWP (10).

Despite some undoubted remaining problems, the SSA and SSP were more democratic than all previous left groups in Scotland and the wider UK. SSA and SSP conferences were organised where genuine debates took place in a largely comradely fashion. Attractive ‘Socialism’ events, with outside speakers, were also organised.

SSP branches were soon formed in every part of Scotland, including the Western Isles and Orkney and Shetland. This represented the most extensive support for socialist politics in Scotland that had been achieved so far.

 

 2)      THE WEAKNESSES OF THE SSP

 a)         Politics

The development and handling of ‘Tommygate’ turned out to be the most public failing of the SSP. One effect of this was to disguise some other weaknesses, which would undoubtedly have emerged more clearly after the election of its six MSPs in 2003. The political conditions, which led to these other problems, were created by the international Left’s inability to prevent the Iraq War in 2003, and the decline of working class action in the UK, including Scotland.

The electoral setbacks of the European Left in subsequent (pre-2007 Crash) elections, including those in Italy, France and Ireland, demonstrated this. The Scottish Greens also lost five of their seven MSPs in 2007. If ‘Tommygate’ had not happened then the SSP would still probably have been reduced from six to one MSP in that election – i.e. Tommy. And he thought he was smart in helping to create Solidarity as his own special fan club to further advance his own celebrity politics!

Yet, there had been no prior public questioning in the SSP of the promotion of the Tommy ‘myth’. This failing was to have dire consequences. When ‘Tommygate’ erupted in 2004, the leadership was left floundering over how to deal with a ‘Tommy’ who had been their very own creation. This confused many members and supporters who began to look elsewhere – often either to the SNP, or even back to the Labour Party.

Remarkably, as Tommy had moved further and further into the world of celebrity politics (aided by his new wife, Gail, whom he married in 2000), the SSP leadership allowed him to build up an entirely new public image for himself as the Daniel O’Donnell of the Left. (He later utilised this in court to claim his leisure activities were largely confined to playing Scrabble with Gail!) This involved publicly turning his back on his pre-marriage image as the Errol Flynn of the Left (which he wistfully recalled in his chats with Coolio on Big Brother).

Key SSP leadership figures knew from early on that this new public image was false, but did not challenge Tommy’s hypocrisy. However, even if Tommy had been able to make a ‘Doris Day’ (11) like conversion, socialists should still not have been involved in allowing the public promotion of such a conservative, 1950’s, family man image.

When Solidarity was formed in 2006, it became, in effect, the Continuity Sheridan-SSP. Celebrity politics were enshrined at its founding conference, with the virtual anointment of Tommy by his mother, Alice Sheridan.  With Tommy in prison for the 2011 Holyrood election, Solidarity sought a new celebrity candidate in the form of George Galloway, accountable to nobody but himself.

The resort to celebrity politics was not, however, rejected in principle by the SSP leadership after the split. An attempt was made by the SSP International Committee to highlight this wider problem amongst the Left in Britain (e.g. Derek Hatton, Ken Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and George Galloway), in a leaflet for the 2008 Convention of the Left in Manchester. However, a section of the SSP leadership suppressed this because it might have upset Galloway and his then Socialist Resistance supporters (12).

Celebrity politics, however, are just one aspect of a wider populism, which avoids the open promotion of socialist politics. Promoting populism is a quite different matter to promoting popular politics in order to extend openly socialist ideas beyond their traditional narrow organisational confines. Populist politics, which downplay the centrality of the working class, have often revealed themselves in the SSP. Although the SSP stood as part of the EACL in the 2009 Euro-elections, it ditched the EACL’s own slogan, ‘Make the Bosses Pay for their Crisis’, and retreated to the vacuous, non-class specific, ‘Make Greed History’ (13).

This resort to left populism, though, was not as bad as Solidarity’s support for No2EU’s, ‘No to social dumping’ – a right populist, thinly disguised racist attack on migrant workers, reminiscent of the NF/BNP/Gordon Brown call for ‘British jobs for British workers’.

One reason for resorting to populism is the fact that those coming from the CWI tradition never developed an adequate understanding of what constitutes socialism/communism. Up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CWI largely equated socialism with nationalisation. Although the weaknesses in this position have been recognised by those who have moved away from the CWI, there has been no real attempt to develop a new clearly articulated socialism/communism, which could effectively challenge a capitalism very much now in crisis since the 2008 Financial Crash.

Part of the problem lies with the CWI’s long sojourn within the Labour Party, where they began to adapt to the reformist milieu they were working with. Whereas Marx had viewed the state as a machine designed to perpetuate the rule of capital, backed by “a body of armed men”; those from a CWI background tended to see the existing state as being in the hands of the wrong people – the capitalist class – instead of the representatives of the working class. In particular, they had looked forward to a future elected Labour government, pledged to socialist policies, ‘capturing’ this state, passing an Enabling Act and nationalising the top 200 companies. But the capitalist state can not be equated with its ‘representative’ institutions – behind these lie the ruling class’s ‘deep state’ with its military, security, judicial and other bodies, all beyond our effective accountability, ready to bypass parliament, and to take ruthless action against any fundamental challenges from our class.

Therefore, the solutions offered by the leaderships of SSP and Solidarity (where the SWP also avoids offering any socialist strategy), to meet the current crisis of capitalism, tend to be national reformist. They stretch from a call for neo-Keynesian state economic intervention to demands for nationalisation  – i.e. from left Labourism to old style, orthodox Marxist-Leninism. The call for nationalisation is sometimes relabelled ‘public ownership’, or supplemented with an unspecified, ‘under democratic’ or ‘workers’ control’.

There has been little appreciation of the international economic integration of the corporate imperialist capitalist order. This places very real restraints on national ‘solutions’, and makes the development of an internationalist strategy and international organisation vital. The massive anti-(corporate) globalisation, anti-Iraq war, anti-G8 and Occupy protests have shown that millions of people already understand the need for an international response. Yet there has been little indication that the Left can build on this by creating a new International (14).

The EACL is very much constrained by the limitations of the ‘socialist diplomacy’ practised between its two dominant political groupings – the USFI and International Socialist Tendency (SWP). There is clearly a glaring need for concerted international action in the face of the EU leaders’ austerity drive, which has led to unprecedented attacks on Greek, Portuguese and Irish workers. These will have a knock-on effect on the rest of the European (including the UK) working class.

There has been no real debate in the SSA or SSP over socialists’ participation in parliamentary and council elections. Are parliament and local councils vehicles for bringing about socialism through accumulative reforms; or do socialists participate in elections to these bodies to support independent class activity, and to put forward the case for socialism/communism?

Again this confusion arises because a significant section of the Left tends to see the state machine as neutral, and just requiring a different hand at the helm, rather than a capitalist state, shaped to meet the capital’s needs. The existing state machine is  worse than useless as a means of socialist transformation. Indeed it is a trap for the working class.  What should be recognised is the need for the state’s destruction and its replacement with a commune-like semi-state, intended to wither away as the lower phase of communism (socialism) gives way to its higher phase.

We never got near this kind of debate about a Maximum Programme within the wider SSP.  This was perhaps understandable in the context of the long debt-financed consumer boom, which coincided with the first ten years of the SSP’s existence. Efforts were concentrated instead on developing and implementing elements of an Immediate Programme. Now capitalism is once more in deep crisis. Attempts to buttress each national economy through superficial reforms can only lead to intensified international competition, with a downward pressure on pay and conditions, and an even greater likelihood of wars, possibly between the imperial metropoles themselves. Therefore, it has become imperative that socialists/communists outline their alternative society and the means needed to achieve this.

The SSP became too election focussed, particularly after winning its six MSPs. This sucked prominent regional or trade union activists into the parliamentary centre. The decision to spend so much money on parliamentary support workers for the newly elected MSPs was an indication of this creeping electoralism. A three way split developed between the SSP’s MSPs – 1) Tommy and Rosemary, 2) Caroline, Frances and Rosie and 3) Colin – as to how to relate to Holyrood. There was little effective party control over these MSPs. The parliamentary ‘tail’ sometimes wagged the SSP ‘dog’.

If ‘Tommygate’ had not erupted, a strongly electoralist wing would probably have emerged in the SSP, offering the party’s MSPs as coalition fodder in the event of a hung Holyrood parliament (15). Former Labour MEP, Hugh Kerr, was already suggesting, before the 2003 Holyrood general election, that the SSP stand down in favour of the SNP in first-past-the-post seats, anticipating such coalitions and a more parliamentary focussed politics (16).

Those who learned their initial politics in the British Left have shown little understanding of the UK as an imperialist, unionist and constitutional monarchist state, and the role of the Crown Powers in maintaining British ruling class control. Nor do they appreciate the real nature of the current British and Irish ruling classes’ ‘New Unionist’ strategy of promoting the ‘Peace Process’ and ‘Devolution-all-round’, aided and abetted by trade union leaders locked in ‘social partnerships’ with the bosses and politicians. This is done to ensure that the UK and the Twenty-Six Counties remain safely subordinated to corporate capitalism and US/British imperialism.

In reaction to their earlier left British unionist training, the majority amongst the SSA and SSP (and later the Solidarity) leaderships have shown a strong tendency to be pulled towards Scottish nationalism, and have become sentimental Scottish republicans rather than militant socialist republicans. Although the 2005 Declaration of Calton Hill represented a partial break from this, the SSP leadership has gone on to tailend the proposed constitutional reforms of the SNP in their proposed Scottish Independence Referendum (17).

After the split between the SSP and Solidarity, some members of the now defunct ISM became divided between the Frontline supporters found in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists (DGS), who played a similar role in Solidarity. It was these two organisations’ initially shared break from the CWI, which had led them to move on from much of the old left British unionist politics (although long retaining elements of such politics over the issue of Ireland), only to court left Scottish nationalist politics as an alternative.

As a result, the ISM/Frontline’s and the DGS’s politics, with regard to Scotland, have not been drawn from the major contributors to anti-imperial/anti-UK state politics prior to the Poll Tax, e.g. the Workers’ Republican tradition of James Connolly and John Maclean, but to a bowdlerised version of Labourism/Trotskyism inherited, but still not fully questioned, from the CWI. This is sometimes topped up with a little sentimental Scottish history and the use of the saltire in the Scottish Socialist Voice.

Those from a CWI tradition also have a poor understanding of the conflict in Ireland. They have been unwilling to address this issue in case any accusations of ‘sectarianism’ affected their electoral campaigns, particularly in the Central Belt. In the SSA’s preparatory stages, the one group, which CWI members went to considerable lengths to exclude, was the James Connolly Society (JCS). It also took years and years to get one-time CWI/ISM members of the SSP on to the JCS’s annual Connolly march in Edinburgh. The CWI’s left unionism was carried into the ISM. This led to their joint agreement to invite Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) as a ‘socialist’ Loyalist, with a background in the UVF, from which the British state recruited its death squads (18), to ‘Socialism 2000’ (19).

Despite the 2002 SSP Conference’s 50:50 debate, there was insufficient follow-up discussion about the nature of women’s exploitation and oppression, and how women’s emancipation and liberation contribute to wider sexual liberation and to socialism/communism. In the aftermath of the split in the SSP, a marked division remained between those former ISM members in Frontline, who wanted to take on board a more Feminist agenda, and those in the DGS, who retained an opposition to “gender obsessed politics” (many of them had opposed the 50:50 arrangements back in 2002).

In the case of ISM/Frontline members this led to a blurring between socialist and radical Feminist politics. In the case of DGS members this led to a slippage away from any socialist understanding of the role of women’s oppression, and to a schizoid split between holding to libertarian views on sex (e.g. believing prostitution is just another form of wage labour, not recognising the women’s oppression involved), or to a toleration of very conservative sexual relationships (e.g. not questioning the promotion of the ‘perfect celebrity couple’ in the never-ending ‘Tommy and Gail Show’). The political division over the role of Feminism, between the two wings of one-time ISM members, very much added to the acrimony during ‘Tommygate’ (20).

The SSP and Solidarity leaderships, following on the old CWI tradition, have remained wedded to Broad Leftism in the trade unions. This involves a ‘parliamentary’ industrial strategy, which sees sovereignty as lying in the trade union conferences (‘parliament’), when effective control really lies in the union HQs (where the bureaucracy forms the ‘Cabinet’). Broad Leftism concentrates on getting left wing union leaderships elected to replace right wing ones. This is countered to a Rank and File ‘republican’ industrial strategy of democratising and transforming trade unions to make them combative class organisations with sovereignty residing amongst the union members in their workplaces, who are prepared to take independent (‘unofficial’) action when required (21). There has also been no debate on possible new methods of organising workers, e.g. social unions.

There have been illusions around existing Broad Left trade union leaderships, and a failure to extend the principle of a worker’s representative on a worker’s wage in parliament, to campaigning for all trade union officials being on the average wage of the members they represent.  The SSP’s relationship with the RMT was focussed on its General Secretary, Bob Crow, and its Broad Left leadership (22), rather than its rank and file members.

Cultural developments can anticipate wider social and political developments, even during periods when the working class is in retreat. Whilst an effective struggle against exploitation and oppression needs confident economic/industrial and political organisation, attempts to go beyond the alienation we experience under capitalism often takes on a more disparate cultural form, which the ruling classes find harder to discipline and police. Despite the wider vibrant cultural debate found in Scotland, and signs of support from several significant cultural figures, there was no organised attempt to intervene in this debate and to encourage its development in a Scottish internationalist rather than a Scottish nationalist direction.

 

b)          Organisation

From the beginning, despite wishing to create a wider organisation, which brought in others, the CWI/SML still wanted to remain the leadership group. This in itself is not a problem. The issue is how do you go about achieving this aim – by encouraging the maximum democracy or by political manoeuvring?

The CWI/SML sought to bring about wider unity, not primarily on the basis of an agreed Immediate Programme (23), but by courting specific groups and individuals, whilst playing down the revolutionary side of their own politics. This involved a resort to diplomacy, rather than holding an open debate between some of the more advanced positions held by the CWI/SML (and others) and the undisguised left reformism and electoralism of those coming, in particular, from Labour and SNP backgrounds.

Of course, any such open debate, may well have resulted in the SSA adopting openly left reformist positions anyhow, given the historical weight of reformism in Scotland and the wider UK. This is why it was so vital to create and maintain the SSA and SSP as open democratic organisations, where such ideas could be challenged and changed in the light of experience.

The SSA and SSP depended overmuch on the initial political training given to its members from other political organisations before they joined up. There was no comprehensive political education programme put in place for new members. There was an attempt to produce an SSA magazine, Red, but it was short-lived.

When the ISM split into majority and minority CWI/IS factions, the majority ISM kept to the old strategy of trying to remain the leadership by making openings to certain individuals. An ‘Inner Circle’ coalesced within the SSP leadership, which consisted of Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes and Alan Green (he represented those from a non-CWI tradition) with a close periphery of Keith Baldassara and Frances Curran (she provided a link with the leading influential Feminists, such as Carolyn Leckie). The ISM used its position as the largest platform to ensure that this emergent ‘Inner Circle’ was given wider support in the SSP (24). As long as the ISM continued to exist, there was still some platform accountability.

The ISM also used its numerical strength to get sympathisers into key positions, whether or not they were up to the job. Paid organisers, who were not transparent or accountable, sometimes built their own fiefdoms either in areas of particular activity or geographical areas.

The ‘Inner Circle’ kept things from the membership (either with tacit ISM acceptance or without their knowledge), e.g. how many real paying members there were, and the fact that the SWP did not pay their subs (although some of their members did join as individuals). Therefore, the activities of the ‘Inner Circle’ were neither transparent nor fully accountable.

Many members of the ISM began to doubt the need for a distinctive platform to advance their specific politics. Instead, they increasingly relied on giving support to those experienced former members of the CWI, and founder members of the ISM, who had steered them through the difficult transition from the CWI/SML to the independent ISM platform in the SSA and SSP.  ISM members began to drop out of their platform, whilst still giving their support as individuals to the ‘Inner Circle’.

In engaging with new political forces, ISM members found themselves questioning some of their previously held beliefs. This is, of course, a good general principle for all socialists. Individual ISM members formed friendships and alliances with other individuals and tendencies, e.g. amongst the left Scottish nationalists and the radical Feminists. This led to a process of adaptation that left individual ISM, or former ISM members, strung out at different points along various lines of thought over a number of key issues. That made it increasingly difficult for the ISM to maintain a unified public position on these political issues.

This was demonstrated most spectacularly over ‘Tommygate’. However, over the issues of 50:50, ‘internationalism from below’ republicanism versus left Scottish nationalism, Ireland (particularly the Connolly march), and secularism versus support for specific identity (especially faith) schools, different ISM members also found themselves on differing sides (25).  As the ISM platform began to fragment, this left the ‘Inner Circle’ as the real SSP leadership, since they were no longer restrained by any remaining ISM discipline.

After 2003, those newly elected MSPs, who had their own trusted personal contacts in the party, also had to be acknowledged by the ‘Inner Circle’. That opened up the prospect of personal, rather than platform differences arising, which could bring about a more dysfunctional leadership, in the absence of either any platform discipline, or of effective wider party accountability.

The ‘Inner Circle’ was unable to successfully address the crisis in the SSP, when ‘Tommygate’ split them, along with their close personal and parliamentary supporters. Both sides put more trust in the bourgeois courts and leaks to the bourgeois media than in the SSP membership. Neither side confined its appeals for support to bona fide working class and socialist organisations. Initially a cover-up ‘deal’ was made between the SSP Executive Committee and Tommy, under which the reasons for his mutually agreed resignation were hidden from the membership. The minutes were not circulated. This sowed further seeds of confusion, adding to those created by the leadership’s shared responsibility in constructing the Tommy ‘legend’ in the first place.

This legacy of personalised politics very much added to the ensuing acrimony, which contributed to the split between the SSP and Solidarity. The two respective leaderships centred on Alan McCombes and Frances Curran on the SSP side, and Tommy Sheridan and his family on the Solidarity side. Supporters were expected to show uncritical loyalty for their leaders’ respective stances in the virtual civil war that developed. Those trying to put forward a more critical viewpoint found themselves subjected, not to real debate, but more often to misrepresentation, and sometimes to vilification.

Prior to the split, the SSP leadership had tolerated the existence of sects, in particular the SWP and the CWI. These were able to take advantage of the SSP’s recognition of platforms (26). The CWI and SWP saw themselves as having all the answers in advance, with nothing to learn from others, when important questions were debated. They were organised as alternative leaderships-in-waiting, ready to take over.

However, instead of establishing firm platform guidelines, diplomatic deals were also made between the SSP leadership and these sects. The SSP leadership did not openly and politically challenge the sectarian practices of these organisations’ leaderships (27). Such an approach could have won over some of their rank and file (albeit not their leaderships, whose sectarianism is hard-wired), attracting them with more open and democratic politics.

 

 3. THE CURRENT SITUATION – FACING UP TO REALITY

There has been no real attempt by either of the two post-split leaderships (SSP and Solidarity) to draw up a balance sheet of the strengths and weaknesses of the original socialist unity project, or to make any honest assessment of where socialists and the wider working class now are in Scotland. The SSP leadership’s main remaining hope, after ‘Tommygate’, seems to be that, “Things can only get better”! And, is Solidarity now on hold until Tommy gets out of jail?!

Solidarity launched itself, in 2006, with the claim that it would soon overtake the number of pre-existing SSP MSPs. However, it failed even to retain its celebrity leader, Tommy, despite his loudly proclaimed court ‘victory’ that year. Solidarity’s leadership took refuge in its ability to garner more votes (31,066 to the SSP’s 12,731) in the 2007 Holyrood election. Yet Ruth Black, its sole elected councillor, soon defected to Labour after an acrimonious internal spat (28).

The SSP leadership believed that there would be an upturn in SSP fortunes, once they were legally vindicated in the Perjury Trial. However, the SSP’s vote fell from the lowly 12,731 gained in 2007, to the abysmal 8,272 in the 2011 Holyrood election, despite the December 2010 court judgement, which upheld the SSP leadership’s version of the ‘Tommygate’ events. This electoral result showed the leadership’s wishful thinking.

Although the Tommy/Solidarity-backed Respect/George Galloway celebrity candidate only received 6972 votes, in the May 2011 Holyrood election (compared with the still unsuccessful Tommy’s 8544 votes in 2007), whilst Solidarity’s own vote plummeted to 2,837, this could hardly provide the SSP leadership with much comfort, considering that both the phantom Socialist Labour Party, and more worryingly, the British National Party, gained far more votes than the SSP.

Indeed, the fact that the BNP’s vote exceeded the combined vote of the SSP and Solidarity was not publicly acknowledged by either leadership, despite the BNP’s and SDL’s ongoing attempts to gain a foothold in Scotland, particularly amongst British Loyalists in the Central Belt. There seemed to be more concern at leadership levels, to see that the SSP and Solidarity slug it out against each other in certain Glasgow seats, than to ensure that the BNP were opposed everywhere.

What remains of the SSP has become a much looser alliance than the old SSA. Work is left to individuals, the Scottish Socialist Voice has no Editorial Board, the SSP website (29) is Eddie Truman’s sole responsibility, Richie Venton is the SSP’s industrial organiser without any accountability to a committee of SSP trade unionists.

The Scottish Socialist Youth and the SSP International Committee have taken good initiatives, e.g. the Anti-Fascist Alliances (30) and the Republican Socialist Conventions. However, these have not had real united leadership backing (although individual leaders have sometimes given their support, particularly Colin in the latter case).

The SSP leadership does not necessarily follow through conference decisions (e.g. the principled support given to ‘No One Is Illegal’ at the post-split 2007 Conference, which would have meant working closely with the Glasgow Unity Centre). Part of this is due to exhaustion of leading members, but another factor is the continued SSP legacy of having the remnants of this unaccountable ‘Inner Circle’. Whilst no longer necessarily having the vigour to politically oppose initiatives, which they do not fully support at conferences, they can still ensure that any such agreed initiatives receive little effective national leadership promotion or coordination.

The current SSP leadership is divided over the way forward. Some from the old ‘Inner Circle’ are showing signs of abandoning the pretence of that the SSP is still a real party, and of retreating instead towards the formation of a socialist ‘think tank’, somewhat to the left of that recently formed to commemorate Jimmy Reid. This SSP initiative appears to be Glasgow based.

Colin Fox and Richie Venton, however, argue that the existing SSP can be revived if only the correct campaign can be found (e.g. Fighting Fuel Poverty, or Fighting the Cuts), or if members fully throw themselves into a continuous ‘hamster wheel’ of activity. Both work very hard and lead by example. They can always point towards a model branch out there to show that such activity is the way forward. The current example given is the new Ayrshire branch, built with the help of the party’s latest prominent recruit, Campbell Martin. He is a former SNP and Independent MSP. He remains a strong advocate of a left Scottish nationalist approach to the constitution, coupled with some support for populist politics (including the SNP’s minimum alcohol pricing and their misguided anti-‘sectarian’ bill (31).

Mounting campaigns is indeed an important activity for socialist organisations. However, without a proper assessment of the class forces involved, or of how a particular campaign links up with the organisation’s wider Immediate Programme and the struggle for socialism, then any such campaign will either run out of steam; or, it will be taken under the wing of the larger parties. Then, instead of contributing to the building of independent working class organisation, the campaign merely ends up buttressing these parties’ political position, by providing them with some cover for the cuts, or for the other counter-reforms they are imposing elsewhere. The Free Prescriptions Bill, initiated at Holyrood by the SSP parliamentary group, was only enacted by a subsequent SNP government, after the SSP ceased to have any MSPs.

In contrast to the SSP, Solidarity was formed as an alliance (calling itself a movement) and not a party. John Dennis of the SSP South Region made the original proposal for a breakaway, because he thought that internal relations had become too toxic to be contained in one party. However, Solidarity quickly constituted itself as a ‘marriage of convenience’, between Sheridan and the Sheridanistas of the DGS, and the CWI and SWP. It now has even less political cohesion than the currently loose SSP alliance.

The DSG website is showing signs of wishing to reunite the Left, but largely on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (32). The recently formed International Socialist Group (ISG), a Scottish breakaway from the SWP, also involved in Solidarity, seems to be adopting a similar path. Its co-thinkers in Counterfire, in England and Wales, have already drawn Socialist Resistance (33) into their Coalition of Resistance (CoR) against the cuts. Whilst CoR is all too willing to bow before Broad Left trade union bureaucrats and left-talking politicians, it constitutes the most punchy campaigning organisation fighting the cuts at present (as shown by its contingent on the STUC’s October 1st demonstration in Glasgow).

CoR and ISG have even attracted some SSP members, despite their strong antipathy to those from an SWP background. However, any such unity is also likely to be on the shaky ground of ‘forgive and forget’, rather than ‘listen, learn and then move on’. Ironically, this would just repeat the ‘diplomatic’ approach the ‘Inner Circle’ adopted taken towards the SWP (the tradition from whence the ISG came), back in 2002.

Both wings of the current SSP leadership remain reticent about becoming involved in other political organisations’ unity initiatives, or even in wider campaigns where they might meet up. An exception is made in the case of the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), which does bring the SSP into contact with Solidarity and ex-Solidarity members. Furthermore, the various struggles impose their own similar joint work, particularly in trade unions. Just as a shared left Scottish nationalism has led to common work inside the SIC, so a shared Broad Leftism has led to joint electoral slates in some unions (e.g. the Public and Commercial Service [PCS] union).

Some SSP and Solidarity members and former members, who have become disillusioned with these organisations, have called for their virtual dissolution into the various campaigns, e.g. Anti-Cuts. They hope that the experience of working with new forces, or ‘knocking heads together’ (i.e. of mutually suspicious SSP and Solidarity members or ex-members) will eventually provide a new basis for unity in the future. Whilst this path can seem attractive, it means glossing over the real political differences that have arisen, and the challenges neither side addressed. Such a course is also likely to lead to more public ‘diplomatic manoeuvres’ (usually accompanied by personalised put-downs in private), in order to bring about a superficial unity, mainly for electoral purposes. This is never a solid basis upon which to build.

Meanwhile, the CWI and SWP continue to slug it out with their own front organisations – the (now defunct?) Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and the National Shop Stewards Network for the CWI, and the (about to be abandoned?) Right to Work Campaign and Unite the Resistance for the SWP. Neither of these sects is likely to commit itself to building a real united party. They prefer to go no further than forming electoral mutual non-aggression pacts like the United Left Alliance in Ireland (which is likely to flounder, if it fails to develop further, after its initial electoral success this year). The prime political purpose of the CWI and SWP is still to build their own sects.

In 2003, a united SSP showed it had gained a definite foothold of support amongst members of the working class in Scotland. The abysmal 2011 (combined SSP and Solidarity) electoral result is an indication that, not only that most politically conscious workers, but also many socialists in Scotland, have moved on from the SSP and Solidarity.

 

 4) WHAT WE NEED TO DO –

LISTEN, LEARN AND THEN MOVE ON

The inspiring legacy of those successful working class campaigns in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, along with the recognition of the need for the working class to organise outside the Labour Party, and to address the National Question in Scotland in a serious manner, provided a sufficient political basis for the successful launch of the initial SSA and SSP project. However, the major challenges the SSP has faced since then mean that new lessons have to be learned if any successful socialist unity project is to be developed in the near future.

We need to acknowledge that the current SSP project is over. We can see that the attempt just to hold things together, hoping things will get better, has not worked. There has been little recognition, at the leadership level, of the need to face up to the new challenges, which the working class has faced; or of the necessary self-criticism about the handling of ‘Tommygate’. The SSP leadership had put the addressing of ‘Tommygate’ on hold between 2006-10, ostensibly for legal reasons during the Perjury Trail.  The 2011 Conference in Dunfermline took a retrograde step by overturning those self-critical decisions, which had been made at the first post-split SSP Conference in Glasgow in 2006.

In pursuing this ‘head-in-the-sand’ course, the SSP will end up as little more than another sect. The leadership’s refusal (using the Perjury Trial as an excuse) to develop a strategy to win back the more critical elements of Solidarity, which would have involved some self-criticism, was the first step on this dead-end road. When the SSA was being set up, the SML/ISM understood the futility of trying to build a new organisation solely around an unquestioned and unquestioning CWI leadership. They actively sought wider support, and just as importantly, were prepared to be self-critical and to challenge some of their old shibboleths in the light of recent experiences. Those in the SSP today, who wish to re-establish socialist unity in Scotland, need to recognise that real answers have to be given to those challenges the SSP failed to meet.

Socialist unity, which has the capacity to address the many pressing issues the working class currently faces in a crisis-ridden world, can only be formed on a new and higher political basis. Such socialist unity will also involve those outside the SSP’s ranks. Such unity can not be built on the basis of ‘forgive and forget’ (which will just lead to a reoccurrence of previous bad practices), but must be done on the basis of ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

 

a)           Politics

To meet the new challenges the Left has faced in Scotland, we need to clarify our views over:-

–            What we mean by socialism/communism and how (and if) the immediate struggles we support promote this aim.

–            The promotion of internationalism, through building wider international organisation on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’ and by participating in international actions.

–            The rejection of populism and the creation of an ‘Immediate Programme’ that both enhances the position of our class, and encourages the development of  independent working class organisation and struggle.

–            An understanding of the reasons why socialists participate in elections to state bodies.

–            An understanding of how socialists participate effectively in trade union (and other working class) struggles.

–            Moving on from a left Nationalist approach to the National Question in Scotland, by adopting a serious commitment to socialist Republicanism.

–            A deeper understanding of Feminism (how to achieve women’s liberation and emancipation), and how this links with the transformation of sexual and social relations between the sexes, which socialist men (who should also have a vision of a realisable better society) have a real interest in achieving.

–            A serious approach to Ecology which takes into account the meeting of the human need for water, food, fuel, shelter and transport, but in an environmentally sustainable way.

–            An imaginative approach on how we relate to other areas of struggle, e.g, culture.

 

b)          Organisation

To learn from the mistakes of the SSP (and of Solidarity), and become more effective we need to:

–            Emphasise the vital importance of democracy, transparency and accountability in all the organisations of the working class.

–            The role of leadership

–            Reject the lure of ‘celebrity politics’.

–            Acknowledge that neither the bourgeois courts, nor the bourgeois media, are appropriate places for socialists to get rulings on how they conduct themselves, or to conduct their internal disputes.  We must confine our appeals to democratic working class and socialist/communist organisations and media. How can we convince the working class of the case for socialism if we have to run to the ruling class’s courts over how we handle our own affairs?

On November 30th, two million public sector workers went on strike (including 300,000 in Scotland), thousands joined picket lines, and tens of thousands went on demonstrations throughout the UK.  However, there is no chance of defending our pensions, when the ruling class and its supporting parties are determined to roll back our class’s gains, and we remain divided between unions and a plethora of different pension schemes. Trade union leaders will all too soon be jockeying for sectional concessions. Only a class wide political offensive, which links up all struggles against the ruling class’s current austerity drive (and this must extend across the EU), has any chance of undertaking a successful defence and then moving on to make real gains.

Nor can the working class be left to the ‘tender mercies’ of a future Miliband (34) -led Labour government.  The Con-Dems may demand an immediate ‘arm and a leg’ from every worker in the UK; but New Labour also wants to saw off our ‘limbs’ – only more slowly. The SNP wants a Scotland that is a low tax haven for corporate business and a playground for the ultra-rich.

Socialists and communists must offer something better.  So let us ‘listen, learn and then move on’.

Allan Armstrong, Bob Goupillot, Iain Robertson, 20.12.11

 

 


1             The Socialist Appeal minority, led by Ted Grant, has remained committed to deep entrism inside the Labour Party, without any visible effect.

2             The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was the last to join the SSP in 2002, forming the Socialist Workers Platform.

3             Workers Unity was an amalgam the Communist Party of Great Britain-Weekly Worker, Alliance for Workers Liberty and the Glasgow Marxists.

4            The Scottish Green Party still retained the majority of activists in this particular arena, despite there being no openly organised Green Left in the party, unlike in England and Wales.

5             The No2EU electoral alliance was forged between the ‘British roaders’ of the  Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the CWI.

6             The Stop the War Coalition organised the massive London demonstration. It was formed by the SWP in alliance with the Murray/Griffiths/Haylett group in the CPB, and has been organised around minimalist popular frontist politics. The SWP had also joined the SSP during the previous year.

7             Later in 2006, when Alan McCombes was jailed for his principled refusal to hand over the party’s minutes to the bourgeois courts, virtually the whole membership rallied once more to raise the money to pay the imposed fine. It only became clearer later, that the beneficial political effect of Alan’s brave action was being sabotaged by some of Tommy’s supporters with their secret submission to the authorities of a false set of minutes to provide himself and his new political allies with some cover, and to prepare a new attack on the SSP.

8            Tommy resigned as SSP Convenor a month later.

9             The CWI leadership under Taffe became increasingly hostile to the ISM majority. The CWI wanted the SSA to be a ‘party’ front organisation. Therefore, they attempted to curtail the autonomy of the ISM. The majority of ISM members in Scotland, led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, broke with the CWI.

The CWI minority formed the International Socialists platform in the SSP. In 2010, some time after they helped to set up Solidarity (in 2006), they changed their name to the Socialist Party of Scotland (SPS), to complement the CWI section in England and Wales, usually just styled the Socialist Party to avoid the unfortunate acronym – SPEW! However, the CWI’s declaration of the SPS was a strong indication that they had given up on Solidarity, which they had originally sponsored, as a longer-term vehicle for forming a new wider party in Scotland, hopefully when they formed the majority and could control it.

10             Of course, those who had originally been in the Militant/SML had already broken with many of that organisation’s sectarian practices, highlighted by split of the ISM from its ranks. SWP members, however, were not in the SSP for long enough (2003-6) to shed members for similar reasons. The SWP leadership also shielded itself by providing its members with an even more hard-wired sectarian training than the CWI. Gregor Gall was the only prominent former member, who stayed in the SSP.

However, the SWP’s sojourn within the SSP did have some longer-term effects on its politics, even after they left. Neil Davidson, who had been the main theoretician for the SWP’s left unionism, later managed to get the SWP to move to tentative support for a ‘Yes’ vote in a future Scottish Independence referendum.

11            Doris Day, the former US movie star, is remembered for having successfully made the transition from more sexually risqué, Film Noir movies in the immediate post-war period to becoming the personification of the squeaky clean all-American woman demanded of movie stars during the Cold War. As one of her long-term acquaintances recalled, “I can remember Doris Day before she became a virgin!”

12             Galloway was then strongly supported by the USFI, whose Scottish supporters remained in the SSP and in Frontline.  The USFI had experienced its own split in Scotland as result of ‘Tommygate’.  Its most prominent members, Gordon Morgan and the late Rowland Sherret joined Solidarity. However, with the backing of the USFI’s British section, Socialist Resistance (SR), the majority of USFI members in Scotland remained in the SSP. They began to up the previously virtually non-existent public profile of the USFI in the SSP, by selling Socialist Resistance and through openly putting forward motions to Conference, e.g. supporting the EACL Euro-election challenge.

Ironically SR was later to break with Galloway and his Respect organisation.

13            There was a time when the SSP leadership knew better. The NGOs’ churchy slogan ‘Make Poverty History’ was adopted in the lead up to the huge Edinburgh march preceding the Gleneagles G8 Summit in July 2005. The white-clad ‘Make Poverty History’ organisers, attendant pop celebrities and demonstrators (and their SWP backers) begged the G8 leaders, in effect, for a nicer corporate imperialism. The red-clad SSP demonstrators countered this forelock-tugging call with ‘Make Capitalism History’.

14             The background to the formation of the First International was the need for trade unions to prevent employers using scab labour from other countries, as well as to extend international solidarity to the Republicans in the American Civil War, the Fenians in Ireland and the Paris Communards. The background to the formation of the Second International was the international campaign for the Eight Hour Working Day. Those recent international actions, already mentioned, would seem to indicate that there are even more grounds today for a new International.

15             This is what happened to the much more radical (on paper) Communist Refoundation Party in Italy.  As a consequence, it lost all the seats it had gained, in 2006, in the Italian parliament after the 2008 general election.

16             Traditionally Labour members, particularly those holding office, have been very hostile to the SNP (dismissing them as ‘Tartan Tories’). However, as Labour itself has increasingly taken on a ‘Pink Tory’ hue, in the guise of New Labour, there has been a growing trend amongst some of those from an old Labour background to see the SNP as sharers in Scotland’s Social Democratic tradition,  Hugh Kerr has warmed to the SNP, John McAllion now argues for a ‘Scottish road to socialism’, whilst even former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, has been prepared to work with the prominent SNP member, Kenny MacAskill.

17            At the ISM’s prompting, the SSA became involved in Labour’s ‘Yes, Yes’ campaign in 1997. Using similar arguments, the SSP later became involved in ‘Independence First’, formed in 2005 by fringe Scottish Nationalists, but not supported by the SNP leadership; and in the Scottish Independence Convention (SIC), also formed in 2005, but this time ‘supported’, restrained and reined in by the SNP leadership.

 Just as the Scottish Constitutional Convention, which initiated the second Scottish Devolution campaign, turned its back on the Anti-Poll Tax struggle (and hence ended up acting as mouthpieces for New Labour’s much weaker Devolution proposals); so there is little chance of the SIC coming out in support of the struggles against the public sector cuts, when the SNP leadership, which they tailend, implements Westminster’s austerity demands.

18             Hutchinson later played a part in the Loyalist campaign of physical intimidation of Catholic primary school girls at Holy Cross in North Belfast, highlighting his roots in the UK’s most virulent Fascist tradition.

19             Daithi Dooley of Sinn Fein was also given a platform to provide ‘balance’. It was agreed to invite the CWI’s Left unionist, Peter Hadden from Northern Ireland to counter the Loyalism of the PUP and the now constitutional Republicanism of  Sinn Fein. The call to give a platform to the socialist Republican, John McAnulty of Socialist Democracy – Ireland (and a former West Belfast councillor) was denied.

20             Despite claims to the contrary, though, this political divide did not form the main reason for the later split. The SWP, which joined Solidarity, was strongly committed to 50:50, whilst others, who remained in the SSP, including members of the RCN, were opposed or abstained.

21            Before developing their infamous ‘Downturn Theory’, just before the 1984-5 Miners Strike (!), the SWP supported a semi-syndicalist, semi-economist form of rank and file strategy in the trade unions. Since then they have oscillated between empty left posturing (their occupation of the negotiations between Unite union leaders  and British Airways in May 2010) and an acceptance of a Broad Left strategy, similar to that of the old CP, and the present CWI.

22             It was not surprising that RMT leadership ended the union’s affiliation after the split in the SSP. Although the SSP leadership’s poor handling of member (Tommy) confidentiality provided an excuse, once the party showed it was much less in awe of ‘great leaders’, it probably became a lot less attractive to Bob Crow. His own British Leftism, inherited from the old CPGB and CPB, was highlighted by his later sponsorship of the British chauvinist, No2EU campaign.

23             The term ‘Immediate Programme’ is used in preference to ‘Minimum Programme’, which, in Social Democratic and later orthodox Communist Party circles, became divorced from any real commitment to the ‘Maximum Programme’. The term ‘immediate demands’ is also used in preference to the use of the Trotskyist term ‘transitional demands’, especially by those from the CWI tradition to try and glorify their support for routine Social Democratic/trade  union reforms. In the UK, these have often buttressed Social Democratic politicians and trade union bureaucrats, rather than developing independent working class organisation. The appropriate time for a ‘Transitional Programme’ is when there is a situation of Dual Power, which actually raises the possibility of an immediate transition towards socialism, the lower phase of communism.

24             A noticeable feature of Alan McCombe’s Downfall is the relative absence of any explanation for the changes in the politics of the SML and ISM, or of  the shifts that took place in trying to hold the ISM together; along with the lack of any account of its two major offshoots – ‘Continuity ISM’ Frontline in the SSP, and the Democratic Green Socialists in Solidarity. Instead this book concentrates on the thinking in the ‘Inner Circle’, reinforcing the view that this was the most significant group in the SSA and SSP leadership. Downfall has a particularly pained tone of anguish and betrayal, precisely because the initial split was not between organised tendencies, but between the previously very close individual members of SML/ISM who made up this ‘Inner Circle’.

25            In this process of moving away from old CWI shibboleths, some former  CWI/ISM members moved very far along these lines of thought. Onetime ISM socialist Feminists originally saw the Socialist Women’s Network (SWN) as an autonomous group within the SSP, which included both socialist and radical Feminists. Following on from the brutal impact of Sheridan’s misogynistic behaviour towards prominent women comrades and other women, in his two trials, key SWN members seemed to move over to a position of advocating radical Feminist organisational separatism. They showed increased hostility towards socialist Feminists in the SSP who differed from them.

26             It was acknowledged by most of the SSP, including its leadership, that not all the  SSP platforms behaved as sects. The RCN was able to provide an example of principled platform behaviour. This contributed to the 2009 post-split SSP Conference decision to unanimously reject the ending of platforms, despite many SSP members having bad experiences of the sectarian antics of the SWP and the CWI.

27             When the RCN brought a motion to conference calling for no support to be given to ‘party’-front organisations (such as the SWP constantly promote), but only to bona fide, democratically-organised, united front campaigns, the SSP leadership would not publicly identify with it because of the diplomatic deals they had made with the SWP. Fortunately, Jim McVicar (ISM/Frontline) broke ranks and gave it his support. The motion was carried by a substantial majority.

28             However, Jim Bollan, SSP, the sole remaining openly socialist councillor in Scotland today, has remained committed to principled class politics. He was suspended for six months from West Dunbartonshire Council, by the SNP leadership, for his tireless activity in support of his overwhelmingly working class constituents fighting cuts to their services. He had the backing of Clydebank Trades Council for his stance. He continues to defy the council’s imposed cuts budget.

29              see:- http://www.scottishsocialistparty.org/

30             The SSY supported Anti-Fascist Alliance challenge to Unite Against Fascism (UAF), which is one of the SWP’s several front organisations. UAF attempted, both in Glasgow and Edinburgh, to divert anti-fascist protestors from directly confronting the SDL to attending tame rallies, addressed by then Scottish Tory leader, Annabel Goldie (!), well away from the Fascist mobilisations. However, neither did the  SSP leadership give a clear call to other SSP members as to where they should be  (although to Frances’ credit, she  was there directly opposing the SDL in Edinburgh).

The SSY also formed a prominent part in the Hetherington Occupation, which was a very significant contribution to the Student Revolt, which first developed in 2011.

31            The lack of any leadership public response to the SNP’s proposed anti-‘sectarian’ bill highlights the SSP’s continued reluctance to get involved in taking a principled position against British Loyalist, anti-Irish racism, which it believes could negatively affect its electoral chances, particularly in Glasgow.  To his credit, Graeme McIver of the DGS, and a prominent member of what is left of Solidarity, has publicly posted a good contribution on this issue on their website.

see:-  http://www.democraticgreensocialist.org/wordpress/?page_id=1448

32             ‘Forgive and forget’, though, does represent a small advance on the ‘Don’t forgive, don’t forget’ tendencies found in both the SSP and Solidarity. In reacting to Sheridan’s anti-party and highly personalised attacks upon leading SSP members, some have become involved in actions which should have been publicly rejected by the party, e.g. George McNeilage’s selling of the ‘Tommy Tape’ to the News of the World, and Frances’s not surprisingly unsuccessful resort to the bourgeois court to clear her name over Tommy’s ridiculous “scab” accusation in the Daily Record.

However, these mistakes have been dwarfed by the conduct of certain Sheridanistas. Some Solidarity members and Galloway (during his Holyrood election campaign, whilst courting Solidarity support) have encouraged violent  attacks directed against SSP members.

also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/19/a-reply-to-james-turleys-whose-afraid-of-george-galloway/

33           This may cause some difficulties for USFI supporters in Scotland, since the ISG’s leader, Chris Bambery was very much involved in supporting the SWP’s anti-Galloway breakaway from Respect, which was opposed by USFI-SR at the time. The ISG also gave its support to the virulently anti-SSP, pro-Union Galloway (nominally Respect) candidate, in the May 2011 Holyrood election. Political consistency has never been a strong point for those from the old SWP tradition!

Perhaps, political differences may develop between the USFI/SR and the Scottish USFI group such as undoubtedly exist between the USFI/SR and USFI/Socialist Democracy (Ireland).

3            Labour-supporting trade union leaders in Scotland condemned the SNP MSPs who crossed the Holyrood picket line on November 30th, but remained absolutely silent about Miliband and all those New Labour MPs who turned up at Westminster. Here Cameron was quick to highlight Miliband’s earlier publicly declared opposition to the strike.

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Nov 20 2011

Liverpool – the city that dared to fight

Emancipation & Liberation has published a number of articles relating to the current struggle against public sector cuts including:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/04/17/international-resistance-to-public-sector-cuts/

Socialists have drawn lessons from the struggles against Thatcher in the 1980’s and 1980’s. Emancipation & Liberation has already looked at the lessons to be drawn from the Anti-Poll Tax Struggle:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/05/27/20-years-after-the-poll-tax-lessons-for-the-anti-cuts-movement/

Here we published an article by Mark Hoskisson, currently the Secretary of Liverpool Trades Council, on the  city’s struggle against Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980’s. This struggle was led by the Militant Tendency, which was then the dominant political grouping in the Liverpool District Labour Party.

Occasionally we hear this example being quoted by former CWI/Militant members in the SSP. Mark, whilst praising “the city that dared to fight”, argues for a critical assessment of Militant’s role.

Furthermore, Mark notes in passing Militant’s promotion of Derek Hatton at the time. Having been publicly boosted by Militant, Hatton was soon to leave and pursue his own career as a media celebrity. Clearly the promotion of ‘celebrity politics’ has become a deeply engrained feature of CWI politics  which they have been unable to move on from, as we can see in their role of boosting Tommy Sheridan and George Galloway in Scotland. However, as we join today’s struggles against the cuts, it is vital that Socialists do learn from this and help to build open democratic organisations where everybody is fully accountable.

__________

LIVERPOOL – THE CITY THAT DARED TO FIGHT
(First published in Permanent Revolution, issue no. 21)

In early 2011 at a packed Liverpool Trades Union Council public meeting to mobilise for the anti-cuts struggle a voice from the back of the crowd shouted “God bless the 47”. The 47 in question were Labour councillors from the city who, nearly three decades earlier, had dared to challenge Margaret Thatcher’s cuts programme. Under the political leadership of the Militant Tendency, Labour took control of the council in 1983. The 47 were disbarred from office and surcharged £106,000 plus £242,000 in costs by the Law Lords in March 1987. All of the local leaders of the council struggle were subsequently expelled from the Labour Party as well.

The five judges from the House of Lords upheld a decision by an unelected district auditor to dismiss, surcharge and threaten with both bankruptcy and prison 47 democratically elected councillors. Their crime was that they had remained faithful to their electoral pledge that it was “Better to break the law than break the poor”. They refused to set the cuts budget demanded by the national Tory government.

Instead they set about building 5,000 thousand new homes and refurbishing 7,000 older houses. They re-organised schools in the city in favour of the working class. They created thousands of jobs in a city plagued by mass unemployment. They opened more nurseries than any other council in the country and froze rents for five years.

Little wonder then that their memory and legacy lives on in “The city that dared to fight”, as one of the 47 Tony Mulhearn dubbed it. Little wonder also that the stand taken by the 47 (1) is a point of reference for today’s battles against Tory-Lib Dem imposed cuts. The decisions taken by the Labour council between 1983 and 1987 are in stark contrast to the council elected in May 2010.

Today’s Labour Council, led by Joe Anderson, has agreed to impose a cuts budget with £91 million of spending being slashed, housing programmes frozen, school building projects axed and of course thousands of jobs being destroyed. Today’s council has chosen to do the Con-Dem coalition’s dirty work rather than call on the people of the city to rise up in resistance.

Only a sectarian would regard the legacy of the 47 as an example of  “Labour betrayal”. The achievements of the council were real. The councillors’ fight was part of a real mass movement of resistance and the attempts to link the council’s struggle to strike action by the city’s workforce were absolutely correct in their intent.

But to defend the record of Liverpool Council between 1983 and 1987 is not to say – as some of Militant’s heirs, like the Socialist Party today claim – that no mistakes at all were made and that the tactics used during the struggle were all perfect and the only model to follow.

Rather, we need a balance sheet that builds on the legacy of the 47 that faces up to the mistakes made and the weaknesses in Militant’s politics that those mistakes revealed.

And given the struggle ended in defeat we need a balance sheet that does not uncritically bless it, not withstanding the call for the divinity to do just that at the mass public meeting of Liverpool Trades Union Council!

The Background

In 1981 Liverpool exploded with the Toxteth riots as black and white youth rose up against a regime of police brutality and harassment and against the city’s staggering devastation at the hands of the Thatcher’s Tory government. Liverpool’s industries were laid waste by the slump politicians at Westminster – down by 65% in 1983. Mass unemployment was like a plague killing the city, whose population fell to a record low of 460,000 in 1983. The social carnage suffered at the hands of the Tories was captured in a 1980s television play, The Boys from The Blackstuff, with its infamous catch phrase “gizza job”.

Thatcher’s cuts to the grant allocation system for local government had, in real terms, taken £34 million from Liverpool between 1979 and 1983. The Liberal council had played along with these cuts – chopping the council workforce by 2,000, freezing council house building and cutting local services to the bone.

The uprising of 1981 though, showed that Liverpool was prepared to fight back. And in May 1983 a Labour council was voted in. A month later Thatcher won her landslide election, but Liverpool bucked the trend. It was a Tory-free city and in Terry Fields, the MP who won Broadgreen, a Militant supporter and well known local class fighter, the city demonstrated that it wanted politicians who would take the fight to Thatcher.

Thatcher was choking off funds to local councils she despised – and Liverpool was top of her list – by capping rates. She aimed to bankrupt councils like Liverpool committed to socially progressive spending programmes. For a period she met resistance from an alliance of left Labour councils. But as the battle lines hardened many Labour councillors caved in to Neil Kinnock’s appeal to avoid a fight. He argued that it was better for Labour councils to give in and act as a “dented shield” than to engage in an all out fight with an enemy he believed could and should only be challenged at the polls.

The Liverpool 47 ignored this call for submission to the enemy. In November 1983 a demonstration of 25,000 was held in the city supporting the council’s stand of setting a budget to meet the needs of the city. In 1984, as the day loomed for setting the illegal deficit budget the scale of support for the 47 was revealed when 50,000 took to the streets to back them. This was soon followed by more victories at the polls, giving Labour seven more seats on the council.

This show of strength terrified the Tories, but it also exposed quite how calculating they could be. After all, at this point the miners had gone on strike and the struggle that was to define a generation began. To avoid the pitfall of fighting on two fronts the Tories “found” an extra £60 million to save the council from having to set a deficit budget.

This was to prove the high point of the mass struggle. Of course further strikes and demonstrations in support of the council followed in 1985 and 1986. But the situation had changed. The council was now under direct attack not only by Tories gleefully waving the scalps of the miners’ union at Liverpool but also by Kinnock who denounced the Liverpool councillors at the 1985 Labour Party conference as the opening shot of his war against the left in the party.

From this point on the Liverpool council – having missed the chance to make common cause with the miners in 1984 with the explicit goal of bringing down Thatcher – now found itself under fire from many sides, and with fewer and fewer allies in a labour movement demoralised by the miners’ defeat. In September 1985 the councilors were suspended by the District Auditor and in November the Liverpool District Labour Party was suspended by Kinnock. From that point on the struggle was on the ebb.

Militant’s political approach

In 1983 the District Labour Party (DLP) in Liverpool was dominated by Militant, with leaders like Tony Mulhearn, the party chairman at the time. The DLP, as Tony Mulhearn explained at the time, was decisive in drafting the 1983 anti-cuts manifesto in the city, one which produced a historically unprecedented swing to Labour. The DLP also exercised control over the council itself. As Tony Mulhearn put it: “The District Labour Party is the policy-making body but also the Labour group implement that policy and the Liverpool District Labour Party elect the leader, the deputy leader and the chairman of the key positions in the Labour group, a position which as far as I know is unparalleled.” (2)

In the light of this it is clear that the decisions and strategy of the DLP shaped the struggle in Liverpool. We have explained above what we think it got right. But what did it get wrong?

The there are three key elements to Liverpool DLP’s strategy that contributed to the eventual defeat of the struggle. Inevitably they overlap with fundamental aspects of Militant’s overall strategy for socialist struggle at the time:

– Militant’s conception of the role of the party in carrying through the struggle

– Militant’s view of the mechanics of social transformation

– The council’s view of its struggle as a sectoral confrontation with the Thatcher government

In 1983 Militant believed that the only way to build a mass socialist party was through capturing the Labour Party – by entering it and working in it – and winning its leadership to Marxism. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of this schema (a schema the Socialist Party has now broken from), they maintained a view of the “leading role of the revolutionary party” which had its origins in the distortions of revolutionary communism during the rise of the bureaucracy in post-revolutionary Russia in the 1920s.

This view elevates the party to the role of supreme arbiter of the interests of the working class and underestimates the pivotal role of generalised working class democracy and non-party organisations. The party can only be a true leader by virtue of the consent of the masses – party and non-party. It cannot and should never be the sole decision making body on behalf of the masses.

In Liverpool this meant that, once captured and placed in the hands of the “Marxist leadership” i.e. the Militant Tendency, the District Labour Party became the exclusive means through which strategy in the city could be debated and decided. The contribution of other organisations, the democracy of other organisations, and the role of political and social organisations outside of the DLP was limited. They could all have their say, but they were not involved in taking decisions.

A non-Militant member of the council, but one who worked very closely with them, Tony Byrne (the architect of the council’s financial strategy), put it bluntly: “All policies are decided and supported by the Labour Party, not outside organisations. The best way to contribute to policy in the Labour Party is to be in it. In fact I wouldn’t think there is much hope of influencing policy if you are not in.” (3)

In Liverpool there was, and is to this day, a rich tradition of non-party working class organisation, through the unions, through community organisations, through sizeable non-Labour working class political parties. These organisations represented thousands of workers and their direct involvement, not just their support, in deciding the fate of the struggle was something that needed to be developed, cherished and incorporated into a strategy for change.

The council did not take this road. It substituted the DLP for mass working class participatory democracy. The DLP decided policy and then appealed to the masses for support.

The most well known example of this approach came with the appointment of Sam Bond as the head of the Race Equality Unit. Sam Bond was a Militant supporter from London and his appointment was opposed by representatives of the local black community and the Liverpool Trades Council. The decision to push ahead with the appointment  regardless alienated sections of the black community in Liverpool and the trade unions who felt that Militant was putting its own narrow party interests ahead of building a broad campaign in support of the council.

Whatever the motivations for this approach by Militant and the non-Militant members of the 47, it was a serious mistake. Had the council and the DLP consciously set out to build mass democratic organisations and had they issued a call to such organisations to take control of the running of services, the running of schools and so on, then the Tories would have faced a far more formidable enemy than they did in 1987 when they were able to disbar the 47 from office with relative impunity.

There is less chance now of the left “capturing” the leadership of a local Labour Party, let alone one as strategically important as Liverpool. Nevertheless, we have already seen a recurrence of the far left’s use of the same concept of “the leading role of the party” today – by the SWP in its “Right to Work Campaign”, by the ex-SWP leaders of Counterfire in their “Coalition of Resistance” and of the Socialist Party, which set up a third anti-cuts campaign via its control of the National Shop Stewards Network.

The lesson of the defeat in Liverpool under the leadership of the DLP is that the left needs to set aside its obsession with front organisations whose hallmark is absolute control by a particular faction. They put off thousands of potential fighters even where they manage to hornswoggle a few hundred.

We need to build genuinely independent, mass democratic anti-cuts organisations that embrace those within and without the established parties, that draw in hundreds and thousands of activists who remain suspicious of the bureaucratic legacy of twentieth century left politics. Such campaigning rank and file organisations need to taste their own power and become imbued with a confidence and belief in their own role, the better to fight to the end, and win.

Militant’s view of revolution

Which brings us to Militant’s conception of how to bring about fundamental social change – a view put to the test in Liverpool where it had won leadership of the Labour Party. Our criticism of Militant then was that their years of entryism in the Labour Party had blunted their revolutionary edge.

In order to stay in the party at all costs they evolved a theory of revolutionary change that could be accommodated inside a reformist party. They embraced a top down, parliamentary conception of change. The leadership would “enable” change in either the council chamber or parliament and the masses would be mobilised to support this top down change.

A key leader of Militant, and now of the Socialist Party, was Peter Taaffe. He spelt out Militant’s view of social change quite clearly: “. . . in the pages of Militant, in pamphlets and in speeches we have shown that the struggle to establish a socialist Britain can be carried through in parliament backed up by the colossal power of the labour movement outside.” (4) This was no isolated statement. It was at the heart of Militant’s approach. And in Liverpool it was carried into practice once the Council was elected. The councillor did not say to the working class of the city – “over to you”. Instead it said, we have decided this course of action, support us.

Of course the action the council took, especially in 1983, was courageous. It defied the Tory government and demanded the government provide funds to meet the needs budget it had set. So far so good. The council then had a choice – when it was attacked it could have declared all out war on the Tories and called on the masses to engage in an indefinite general strike to force the government to retreat.

This would have meant actively dissolving the antiquated and bureaucratic machinery of local government and establishing the elements of working class rule in the city. Far fetched? Given the DLP had declared it was under Marxist leadership and prepared to fight to the end, clearly not.

However, this was not the course of action taken by the council. It went half way towards it, calling mass demonstrations which numbered tens of thousands, supporting strikes by council workers and others and organising democratic consultations with the working class of the city over changes. All of this was good – but still within the framework of capitalist legality.

But at the same time it sought to maintain the council in power by striking a deal with the government over the budget. The deal enabled the council to carry out important election pledges, but it was a compromise that left the city well short of the money it needed. A Financial Times journalist summarised the deal as: “The fact is that Liverpool’s muscle won, but less than it might have done, and the government lost, but not as much as it might have done . . . For its part Liverpool made substantial concessions too and any claims to the contrary are simply disingenuous.” (5)

The compromise provided Liverpool with £17 million – still £13 million short of the budget it required to meet its pledges. What followed was a period of creative accounting by Tony Byrne, and later loans from Swiss banks in order to keep the council afloat.

Throughout the negotiations that led to this compromise the council had mobilised the extra parliamentary power of the workers – notably in a massive public sector strike in its support. But this was orchestrated and limited action being used to strengthen the council’s hand in negotiations with the government. It was not independent working class action setting the terms for any deal.

The workers were a supporting cast – and Derek Hatton, the Deputy Leader, was very much the star. Looking back at every piece of footage this is clear. We hear far too much from Hatton and not enough from the workers. The result was that the support amongst the working class drained away. In 1985 workers voted not to strike and both the government and the Labour leadership sensed things could be moving in their direction.

They both moved against the council in a combined legal attack and political witchhunt. They found that the councillors’ failure to capitalise on the mass support they had in 1983/84 by turning it into an all out struggle against Thatcher by the working class of the city had led to things going off the boil. The council was now receiving less support from the very people who had been the “extra parliamentary” army the previous year.

The lesson is that the working class must never be used as “extra support” a stage army marched out to strengthen the negotiators’ hand. Their independent struggle is always and under all circumstances more important than the battles, negotiations and deals struck in either parliament or the council chamber. The independent strength of the working class in struggle will give rise to a new politics in which decisions are made by the democratic organisations of the strikers, the communities and the campaigns not by the parliamentarians either locally or nationally.

National not local battle

Finally we come to the council’s view of its own struggle. It set the limits of its campaign around the borders of the city. It was a battle that pitched militant Liverpool against Thatcher’s London regime. It aroused tremendous civic pride and fierce loyalty to the council by people who were suffering 24% unemployment at the time and enduring  some of the worst housing conditions in Europe.

The council quite rightly mobilised the famous sense of city patriotism felt by the Liverpool working class and directed it towards progressive ends. There was nothing wrong with that except . . . The backcloth to the major budget crisis and struggle in the city in 1984 was the great national Miners’ Strike. Thatcher was at war, quite literally, with the best organised and most militant section of the working class. This battle, as every socialist knew at the time, would shape the entire future of the class struggle in the country. For that reason every socialist worth their salt tried to do one thing – join up every local and sectional struggle into one class front against the Tories and alongside the miners.

Thatcher was well aware of this and staved off the danger by deliberately making concessions to other workers to ensure they did not start striking alongside the miners. Rail workers got one of their best ever pay deals. In the face of two dock strikes, concessions to port workers were made by the Tories. Pay rises were sprinkled across the public sector.

Everywhere a Labour and trade union bureaucracy terrified of the miners’ struggle becoming generalised jumped at the compromises on offer and kept their men and women out of the order of battle. Everywhere the possibilities of opening a second front against the Tories to help the miners were closed off.

In these circumstances Liverpool City Council, which was being offered a compromise by the Tories in order to keep it separated from a generalised struggle alongside the miners, had a duty to reject all offers and declare solidarity with the miners under the banner of “Liverpool’s fight is the miners’ fight – united we can win”. This was not only a duty but offered the only perspective of Liverpool winning. A united struggle could have crippled or defeated Thatcher, reaching a shoddy compromise with her one year, allowed her to defeat the miners and return to the attack the next.

The level of support for the council and for the miners in the city was phenomenal. In the spring of 1984 Everton and Liverpool played each other at Wembley in a League Cup Final. North London was flooded with over 100,000 Scousers wearing their teams’ colours and two stickers: “I support our Council” and “Coal not Dole”. Many miners described the day as one of the best ever collections they had made to raise money for their strike.

A city united had the chance to forge a bond with a union waging a life and death battle for the future of the movement. It did not take that opportunity. It took the money on offer from the government and took the working class of the city out of the line of fire.

A year later, when the workers of the city voted not to strike in September 1985 and ill-thought out tactics were used to try and delay the consequences of the financial crisis that had gripped the city, the miners were back at work, defeated. Thatcher, and the right of the Labour Party, could turn on Liverpool fresh from the victory over the miners. And Liverpool – the city that dared to fight – now found itself alone.

The 47 stood firm and put up a brave fight, Tony Byrne set to work negotiating fresh loans, but terrible damage had been caused by the separation of the city’s fight from the miners’ fight. The end result was that not only did Liverpool find itself fighting alone as the auditors and witchhunters moved in during 1985/86, so too did the councillors. The demonstrations that had once numbered tens of thousands dwindled to hundreds as confusion and demoralisation set in as the scale of the defeat became clearer. Just as the miners had, for a time, believed they could go it alone, so had Liverpool.

For daring to fight it should always be remembered as a heroic struggle. But its defeat carried the all important lesson of the need for class wide unity to triumph over sectoral struggles.

And this, perhaps, is the most important lesson of all for today – the cuts are an attack on all of us, no matter who gets sacked or what gets closed first. We need to be conscious of the need to fight them together and use each sectional struggle that occurs as the starting point for developing a class wide battle to defeat the government’s polices and bring it down.

The city wide strike in Liverpool in 1984 could have – and should have – been a building block for a nationwide general strike alongside the miners. It should not have been only the means of winning a local and sectoral battle.

All of that said the 47 stand head and shoulders above the Labour councillors today who, faced with the Tory demand for cuts, meekly reply “how much”?

1             see http://www.liverpool47.org

2             The Politics of Local Socialism, p 91, John Gyford, London 1985

3             Labour, a tale of two parties, p. 131, Hilary Wainwright, London, 1987

4            Militant International Review, No. 22, p28

5             Financial Times, 17 July 1984

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Oct 23 2011

Mary McGregor reviews ‘Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story’, by Alan McCombes

Like many others who have been members of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) for a number of years, I did not want to read Downfall: The Tommy Sheridan Story by Alan McCombes. As a founder member of the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) and then the SSP, I had been filled with hope (but with no illusions) about the potential of this party as a unifying force in Scottish politics. It felt like the best chance we had had in my lifetime of building a non-sectarian, democratic, socialist party that would allow for open dissent and comradely debate. It felt for a while like the dogma so many of us had been steeled in, could be replaced by a willingness to listen and to understand, supported by democratic and accountable structures.

It was not all a bed of roses. These democratic strides had to be fought for every inch of the way. The constitution had to be protected and battles had to be waged in its defence. As a member of a very small platform, taking on the numerical superiority of other platforms, such as the CWI, the SWP and the ISM, could be pretty uncomfortable. But – and the but was huge- it was the most democratic, socialist organisation in Europe, blending campaigning and mass participation with significant electoral success in the Scottish parliament. The SSP gained first one MSP, in the form of the eponymous villain in Alan’s book, then followed on with the election of six MSPs; more than half of whom were women! Instead of small dispirited groups who hated each other plying their separate wares on Saturday morning stalls and heckling passers by, we were part of a movement where people participated in our campaigns and activities and queued to sign our petitions, knew what we stood for and liked it.

So, being part of this movement and then to watch it crumble so ignominiously before our eyes as Tommy Sheridan embarked on his Kamikaze mission against the News of the World (NOTW) was not a part of my life I wanted to revisit via the pages of Alan McCombes’ book. However…… we can only learn from mistakes if we understand them. So, Alan’s book must be an important part of that process. We may never really understand just how Tommy’s mind worked through this time but if anyone could shed light on some of the causes of the debacle, then surely it would be Alan McCombes – by his own admission, the mentor, the architect, the creator of Tommy Sheridan, the icon.

For those of us who were there, there was not a lot new in this book. It was a very easy read and McCombes’ style, though laden with simile and metaphor, has a charm, which is hypnotic. McCombes does infuse the past with a wistful rosy glow and his sincerity and pain at seeing his creation turn against him is palpable. McCombes himself comes over as the thoughtful, courageous, political apparatchik that he is. However, the book is as much about the fatal flaws of the SSP as it is about Tommy’s fatal flaw.

The RCN has rightly asserted from the start that the split in the socialist movement in Scotland can be laid at the door of Tommy Sheridan, aided and abetted by the CWI and SWP. Through his vanity and arrogance, he was prepared to sacrifice the movement to protect his image. He seemed to believe his own lies and even more worryingly was supported in pursuit of his greater glory by those in the CWI and SWP who also knew the truth but by some absurd warped logic believed it was OK to lie because those lies were against the NOTW. The fact that they were also lying to the working class became irrelevant.

Alan’s book captures the madness of the time effectively. Particularly the National Council, which took place while he was in jail defending the minutes of an SSP Executive meeting. While reading about it, I could imagine folk who weren’t there thinking it could not have been that bad. Well it was. It was probably the first time I had seen the collective, destructive power of Tommy and his new allies given full vent. Although I do not recall anyone being hit, it was none the less a violent, vicious and intimidating meeting. There was literally baying for the blood of those who refused to support Tommy. It was a meeting, which shamed the socialist movement and publicly marked the end of everything the SSP had stood for. I was no great fan of Tommy and he had turned his wrath on me on a number of previous occasions but I was shocked at this screaming, parody of a socialist leader who ranted at his enemies.

Perhaps I would not have been so shocked if I had known what Alan and Frances, and Keith and Colin all knew. Maybe if I had realised what a creation Tommy had been from the start then I would have known that this kind of behaviour was possible. It was like he had won an X Factor type competition to become the poster boy of the Scottish left. Because, what Alan’s book does make clear, is that the myth of Tommy Sheridan was a façade. He was a media creation. He oozed warmth and sincerity and cultivated the idea that he was the personification of fairness and justice. Yes he did great things – the Poll Tax imprisonment, the warrant sales bill, the oratory which could touch people’s hearts in a gifted way but it was part of an act, of a role he had chosen to play. It was a role in which he was supported and coached and protected within by his former comrades. According to Alan, Tommy was in fact shallow, self centred, lacking in political understanding and messianic from the start.

So how does this reflect on the SSP and particularly the ranks of the ISM platform from whence Tommy came? Where was the culpability on the part of the SSP in what followed on from the NOTW revelations? Well Alan’s book shows how a cult of the individual, while yielding short-term benefits, is ultimately dangerous and destructive – it is anti democratic. Tommy, like ALL other leaders, needed to be under democratic control so that his undoubted talents could be used effectively. However, within the movement and the party, he should have had no special dispensations, rights or privileges.  Tommy’s private life is his business. What Gail knew, what was accepted within their relationship, is all speculation. McCombes is right when he makes it clear that there was no Calvinistic witch-hunt against Tommy because of his sexual proclivities. The problem was that having been allowed by the party to court the media using his Mr Clean family man image, charges of liar, cheat and hypocrite could easily have been thrown at him and the SSP when it came out. Had, of course, Sheridan resigned as convenor and let it blow over; no one would have cared after the furore had died down. Instead it was Tommy who insisted on taking the NOTW to court!

When Alan explains why the minutes of the Executive meeting where Tommy told the truth were kept secret, we can see another manifestation of the SSP leadership’s fatal flaw. It was done out of concern for Tommy and his family. The irony when Tommy shows no concern for the families of those he brands as liars and scabs is not lost. However, this came before party democracy. Obviously at that stage Alan and the Executive thought the matter could be contained but at the expense of the membership. Ultimately the party leadership believed the membership had to be protected or could not be trusted.

And so it went on with behind the scenes machinations, secret meetings, secret affidavits and secret filming. Alan does the party the courtesy through the book of explaining why what happened did and why the SSP leadership took the decisions it did at each stage. It does not however mitigate the fact that during this time, loyal party members were treated as people who could not understand the full implications of what was happening. Old friendships and loyalties are once more put above party policy and democracy as neither in the book nor at any subsequent party meeting has George McNeilage been condemned by the leadership for selling his story to the NOTW.

The sacrifices that Alan and the others have made for the socialist movement are undeniable. Downfall catalogues the misery brought to their lives during this process. The book must undoubtedly have been cathartic and it was necessary. It was intended to vindicate the position of all those dragged into court against their will and cross examined by a comrade that had been revered by substantial sections of the working class of this nation. And it does that very well.

By writing the book, I hope Alan can see the mistakes that were made were not all Tommy’s, not all his, nor the leadership’s, but mistakes we all made or allowed to happen. After reading this, I became more convinced than ever before that a new type of politics is necessary if we are to attract people into socialist activity and keep them there. We need a politics that is open, democratic and where all party members are equal. We need a politics, which can debate, question and hold to account those privileged enough to be chosen to lead us. We need a politics where disagreements are not seen as tests of friendships and where principles are more important than appeasing someone’s ego. We need a politics which is compassionate and caring but at the same time, determined and honest.

The SSP went some of the way to providing this but certainly during the crisis and sadly since the imprisonment of Tommy Sheridan, we have seen signs that the damage done by Tommy Sheridan has had a catastrophic effect on the SSP, its democratic structures and its potential as a uniting force in Scottish working class politics. It is very sad but it is too easy just to blame Tommy. We need to look forward to a party where the myth of Tommy Sheridan or his like does not have to be created.

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May 19 2011

A Reply to James Turley’s ‘Who’s Afraid of George Galloway’?

 

In Weekly Worker, no. 865, James Turley has attacked those who wrote an Open Letter urging no vote for George Galloway in the Holyrood elections on May 5th. The Open Letter was originally published on the Manchester-based blog, Infantile and disorderly (The Editorial Board of Emancipation & Liberation added its members’ names after the initial publication). So Turley’s response was not made with the Republican Communist Network in mind. However, since his letter addresses the situation in Scotland, and seems singularly misinformed about the situation, here is a reply.

Turley begins well enough, agreeing with many of the criticisms of Galloway already made by others. However, he soon reveals his ignorance of the situation in Scotland. He claims that Solidarity certainly did better under {Galloway’s} tutelage than Sheridan’s. In the recent 2011 Holyrood election, the Left unionist Galloway-fronted, Solidarity-backed slate received 6972 votes. However, in the 2007 election, the Left nationalist Sheridan-fronted, Solidarity slate received 8574 votes. On neither occasion were Galloway or Sheridan elected. Sheridan only managed to achieve this as part of the united socialist SSA and SSP slates in 1999 and 2003. Under their auspices he received 18,581 and 31,116 votes respectively. However, it is easy to see how Turley makes such an elementary mistake. As a member of the CPGB he believes that being a Left British unionist wins more support from the Scottish working class. Since Galloway is one of Scotland’s foremost Left British Unionists he must, by definition, have done better than Left nationalist, Sheridan. Reality mustn’t be allowed to cloud ideology!

Turley goes on to claim that the Open Letter signatories are misguided in basing their judgement on Galloway over Iran, because he is not standing for election in TehranOne can find all manner of Labour Left or Morning Star-type candidates with extremely dodgy record of supporting dictatorial regimes abroad, but the CPGB’s intervention is about drawing a class line on the cuts issue.

This represents a fairly rapid retreat to a narrow British and economistic focus, especially in the context of the major ongoing democratic struggles being waged throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Galloway appears to have greater internationalist pretensions than the CPGB. He has very publicly extended his support to a Muslim revolution… because a very significant number of the population of Egypt support the Islamic Movement of Egypt and that Movement has no need to hide itself under a bushel. (Stop the War Coalition meeting in London on 2nd February). In the Guardian of the 12th March, Galloway wrote that, I welcome the imminent victory of the Islamic movements in Egypt and Tunisia, which I think will provide very good government on the Turkish model.

With the collapse of Mubarak, the US and UK states are looking to the Muslim Brotherhood to buttress their slipping imperial control in the area. The Erdogan regime in Turkey is an ardent promoter of global corporate interests including privatisation. It continues to oppress the Kurds. Faced with ongoing democratic revolutions, in which the most advanced participants currently desire not Muslim but secular republics, and oppose ‘their’ state’s wholesale handing over of resources to the global corporations, Galloway’s genuine anti-imperialist credentials begin to look rather thin.

However, the crux of Turley’s argument focuses on Scotland and the CPGB’s  class line on the cuts issue {which} involves  a vote for a) candidates of the workers’ movement who b) oppose, and (at least say they) will vote against all cuts to public services. We also argue that voters should prefer Labour candidates who meet the conditions to non-Labour, though this is irrelevant in the Galloway case.

Funnily enough, Weekly Worker has not been able to name a single Labour MSP candidate in Scotland who meets their anti-cuts criteria, despite their own turn to the Labour Party. Furthermore, this is not so irrelevant in the Galloway case. Anybody reading his Daily Record column over the last few years would soon realise that, not only is Galloway pro-Labour, but he has been selling himself as, in effect, another possible future Labour MSP. This was based on his (misguided) assumption that Labour would gain most of the FPTP seats in Glasgow in the 2011 Holyrood election, leaving less space for further Labour MSPs on the top-up List seats. So he pointed out that a vote for Galloway was, in effect, a vote for an extra Labour MSP.

It looks very like Galloway was trying to work his way back into the Labour Party in a similar manner to Ken Livingstone. First, however, he would have to show that he enjoyed enough electoral support. However, when  Galloway was expelled by Blair from the Labour Party in 2003, he took very few people with him, unlike Livingstone. This is why he has had to seek the backing of those Trotskyist groups – in turn, the SWP, Socialist Resistance (they later abandoned him) and now the CWI and the SWP again (!) along with their Scottish breakaway, the International Socialist Group – all of whom he despises. Their role is to act as his unquestioning footsoldiers on the ground.

However, if we look to Galloway’s own stance over fighting the cuts he has no principled record in this regard either. He may verbally claim to be against all cuts to win the support of the gullible CWI and SWP. However Galloway is a member of Respect, which in East London is now little more than an Islamic communalist organisation. Respect councillors have voted through cuts in Tower Hamlets without a word of public criticism from Galloway.

Perhaps realising that a call to support Galloway as a principled anti-cuts candidate lacks a certain credibility, Turley points instead to his support from the Sheridan splinter group Solidarity {with} its two main activist bases, and later to the fact that Galloway remains reliant on support from willing left groups  – he means the SWP and CWI. Here Turley is retreating to another dubious aspect of CPGB politics – its belief that a principled Marxist Party can be built by uniting all the self-declared Marxist organisations in Great Britain into a single party. The ignominious break-up of the CPGB-backed Campaign for a New Marxist Party highlights the futility of this approach. This collapse was more rapid than that of any other recent socialist unity initiative (the SLP, SSA/SSP, SA, Respect, CNWP), despite the much more limited range of Marxists involved.

If you are serious in opposing the cuts, you certainly have to confront Labour complicity in their implementation, along with their MPs’, MSPs’, councillors’, Party officials’ and Labour-supporting trade union officials’ opposition to any effective independent class action. But you also have to confront those Marxist sects, such as the SWP and CWI, which act as outriders for the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy when it comes to demobilising independent class action. They promote their own front organisations to derail and split any independent movement. This is strikingly obvious in the fight against the cuts. Here we have to confront the wrecking tactics of the SP-controlled National Shop Stewards Movement and the SWP-controlled Right to Work Campaign (whose very names demonstrate they were both created with a different Party-recruiting project in mind than fighting the cuts).

Turley’s resort to the SWP’s and CWI’s declared support for Galloway only demonstrates the dead-end nature of this particular course of action. With the impending demise of Solidarity, the parting of the SWP and CWI in Scotland can not be far away. Look to Ireland, where despite their coming together in the United Left Alliance (essentially an electoral non-aggression pact), south of the border, they still managed to stand candidates against each other north of the border in the Stormont election on May 5th. And we are often lectured by the CPGB about the superiority of all-Britain or all-UK organisations because of their ability to unite socialists and the working class!

However, Galloway has gone one step further in his attempts to promote disunity. Much of his campaigning has been on his own terms, with little regard to his CWI and SWP allies of convenience. Publicly he has placed a lot of emphasis on cultivating the sectional support of Catholics and Muslims. However, where Galloway has attended joint meetings he has played to the CWI and SWP gallery in his thinly disguised attempts to whip up verbal and physical abuse directed against prominent SSP members in the aftermath of the Sheridan debacle. Sadly, given the number of emotionally damaged, attention-seeking individuals to be found in our society, there are some people who have stooped to such attacks. However, the prime purpose, of resorting to the misplaced use of ‘scab’ accusations to encourage such behaviour, is to deflect attention from the CWI’s and SWP’s own roles in promoting socialist disunity.

They seem to forget that Sheridan was once prepared to hand over the names of Trafalgar Square anti-poll tax protesters to the Metropolitan Police. The CWI didn’t raise any criticisms then. Meanwhile some SWP members in Scotland had started to pay the poll tax, because they argued that once the STUC and Scottish Labour Party had withdrawn their backing from a campaign of defiance the struggle was over! They both have short memories!

So, if you claim that you support candidates of the workers’ movement who oppose and vote against all cuts to public services, who should you have been supporting in Scotland?

Turley mentions the fact that Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Party has regularly out stripped the SSP which has even less reason to exist than the SLP. Now certainly, the SLP did win considerably more votes in this Holyrood election than either the SSP or Solidarity. However, the mere accumulation of passive votes at an election count is of little more significance than the vote for similarly 9th placed Georgia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The number of new active SLP members resulting from their vote in Scotland, will probably be outstripped by the sales here of Georgia’s Eurovision entry, One More Day!

In addressing the anti-cuts struggle we have to look to the roles of Solidarity and the SSP, which Turley grudgingly concedes still has activists. In the last Local Council elections, held in Scotland in May 2007, both Solidarity and the SSP gained a councillor each. Solidarity managed to get Ruth Black elected in Glasgow. So how has she performed in relation to the anti-cuts struggle? Well first she defected to the Labour Party and soon became embroiled in accusations of financial irregularity – a prominent anti-cuts spokesperson on the Glasgow Council she certainly is not.

In contrast, Jim Bollan was elected SSP councillor in West Dunbartonshire on the same day. Here he has been to the forefront of the struggle against the cuts, putting forward a ‘No Cuts’ budget, opposed by all the controlling SNP and the ‘opposition’ Labour councillors. Jim has backed trade unionists and supported direct action by council service users. As a result of his staunch opposition to cuts, the SNP ruling group suspended him for six months in 2009. In the person of Jim, we have somebody who has gone considerably beyond Turley’s second voting criterion for giving electoral support – i.e. saying they oppose the cuts. If you add Turley’s first criterion –  support for someone from the Labour movement – Jim had the support of Clydebank Trades Council in the face of his earlier suspension from office.  Jim headed the SSP slate for the West of Scotland on May 5th.

In Glasgow, the most significant anti-cuts struggle at present is the continued Free Hetherington occupation at Glasgow University.  Once again the SSP has been prominent in this, particularly Scottish Socialist Youth.

Now, of course, it is easy for Turley to make a smug dismissal of the current voting support for the SSP. There is much that the SSP can be criticised for in this and other regards. However, when it comes to assessing the anti-cuts opposition on Turley’s criteria, then it is Galloway and his backers, not the SSP, that is found wanting.

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Feb 03 2011

RCN statement following the Tommy Sheridan Perjury Trial.

The RCN welcomes the vindication of those SSP comrades who refused to go along with Sheridan’s attempt to use his public and celebrity position to extract money for personal gain. Whilst fully recognising the political damage and personal hurt to SSP members resulting from this debacle, the RCN opposes the jailing of our former SSP comrade Tommy Sheridan and looks forward to the day when such issues will be dealt with within the organisations of our class not those of the bourgeoisie.  Lessons, however, must be learnt.

The rise of the Scottish Socialist Party to a position of influence and respect within the working class of Scotland, owes a great deal to the hard work and dedication of many comrades. No one can underplay the contribution made to this by Tommy Sheridan. He became the public face of the socialist movement in Scotland and inspired many people to become involved in class based activity. However, Tommy is a human being and is flawed like the rest of us. He grew to believe his own rhetoric; he courted the press on personal and family matters and set himself up to be the epitome of the clean-cut family man. He grew to believe that he was the SSP.

As we said at the time of the split within the SSP: The decision of Tommy Sheridan to pursue his court case against the unanimous advice of the SSP National Executive represented a rejection of inner party democracy and the accountability of party officials to the membership – an anti-party action, which has had dire consequences for the SSP. It was a gross political mistake. The subsequent decision to form a new organisation, Solidarity, on little other political basis than personal support for Tommy Sheridan, represented a continuation of this anti-party action and heralded one of the most serious mistakes made by socialists in post war Scottish politics. It placed personality and individual egos above principled politics. It weakened the working class in the face of the current ruling class offensive.

The decision of the SWP and CWI to back this split, further demonstrated their own sectarian agendas. These organisations’ lack of commitment to principled socialist unity has already been clearly shown by their recent separate ‘unity’ initiatives in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland. The most immediate lesson for socialists is the incompatibility of trying to build a socialist organisation through promoting a celebrity leader. Furthermore, this has been highlighted, in the UK, not only by the example of Tommy Sheridan, but also of Derek Hatton (CWI/Militant), Arthur Scargill (Socialist Labour Party) Ken Livingstone (one-time Left independent) and George Galloway (Respect).

The consequences of the internecine warfare for the SSP and the working class movement have been catastrophic. Our credibility as an organisation, which can lead the struggles that face us and unite the left in Scotland, is severely diminished. However, we have survived and in pockets around Scotland have continued to work democratically and been leading fighters in various struggles. Now is the time to learn the lessons of this tragedy. If we do so, then we can possibly rebuild as an organisation and once more play our part in forging socialist unity and taking forward the fight for a progressive and equal society.

Although we hold Tommy Sheridan responsible for the initial damage to the SSP, we also recognise the potential for subsequent and continuing damage caused by the misguided actions of a number of our own comrades, some of these actions in direct contradiction to Party policy. To avoid this, we must:-

  • Encourage debates where political differences and attempts to make SSP office bearers accountable for their actions are addressed without acrimony and personalised attacks, either by those criticising or those criticised, and with understanding.
  • Apply our constitution equally to all members.
  • Insist that all officers of the Party adhere to Party policy.
  • Not elevate any individual or group to the position of Great Leader/s. The party has democratic structures to ensure this does not happen and these must be adhered to.
  • The membership of the party must be trusted. Some of the fallout from the court case could have been mitigated if the minutes of the EC had been dealt with in the normal manner and been made public to the membership. Only the RCN argued for the minutes to be open. This was a case of the party still treating Tommy Sheridan as more important than any other member and as such above the democratic scrutiny of the party.
  • No resort to the bourgeois courts to decide political issues as per conference decisions at the October conference post the split.

Socialists should not go to the bourgeois courts for rulings on how we conduct ourselves. Such appeals should only be made to the democratic institutions of our class. What chance have socialists got of bringing about socialism in the face of capitalist economic and state power, if we have to run to their courts to sort out our problems in the here and now? Therefore, we need to re-emphasise the SSP Conference policy passed on October 20th, 2006.

  • SSP members should avoid resort to the state’s courts when seeking redress for politically motivated attacks on their behaviour
  • When SSP members are subjected to politically motivated attacks by the state or media, they should be able to call upon the support of the SSP National Executive to conduct a party campaign including the following tactics as deemed appropriate:-
    • articles in the party’s press
    • direct appeals to the trade union members in the state bodies and/or media responsible
    • calls for boycott actions
  • SSP members should not resort to the non-party media when making allegations against other SSP members. Such allegations should be brought initially before the appropriate party body at the level concerned with the right to appeal to a higher level, the ultimate appeal being the SSP Conference.
  • The elected press officer should be responsible for day-to-day responses to the outside media, when members are under attack. The press officer is directly responsible, initially to the National Executive, then to the National Council, and finally to the National Conference.

We accept that individuals found themselves in exceptional circumstances. However, in line with the above decision, the George McNeilage tape should have been seen to be dealt with by the party. This has been damaging for the SSP amongst the broader labour and trade union movement. The end does not justify the means. Frances Curran’s use of the courts for a ruling being called a scab by the Daily Record was also a political mistake and against Party policy. Party members who handed minutes to police or who gave affidavits to newspapers must now see that however well intentioned, their actions were not helpful and once more were against party policy.

Once again, it is our contention that we must bring the continuing self inflicted damage to an end. The mistakes we made must be acknowledged, breaches of policy on the part of office bearers should be addressed and we must show ourselves to be a democratically accountable party. Also, the Party must now seek to carry through the decision of the post-split 2006 SSP Conference which welcomes back former members without recriminations, especially now that they can clearly see the tragic implications of the misguided actions of Sheridan, Solidarity, SWP and CWI leaderships.

Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it.(Passed overwhelmingly 20th October 2006)

We must also try to win back the largest group of all – those former members who left the SSP and did not join Solidarity. They have raised criticisms, not only about egotism of Sheridan and the unattractive sectarianism and splitting tactics of the SWP and CWI, but also of some of the badly misjudged actions of the SSP in attempting to deal with these problems. This group currently forms an important bridge to those wider sections of the working class whom we need to win over once more to principled, socialist unity.

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Feb 03 2011

RCN Motion to Special Conference

This should be read in conjunction with the RCN Statement to Conference.

Conference holds Tommy Sheridan’s anti-party actions to be responsible for the damage inflicted on the SSP and on the socialist movement in Scotland, aided, in particular, by the decisions taken by the leaderships of the CWI and SWP. The decision to split the SSP through the formation of Solidarity represented a major political mistake, which has left the working class severely weakened in the face of the current capitalist offensive.

We recognise however that to rebuild the party and this movement we must ensure that our own party structures, our constitution, conference decisions and internal, democratic procedures are adhered to. Therefore the SSP must:

Encourage debates where political differences and attempts to make SSP office bearers accountable for their actions are addressed without acrimony and personalised attacks

  • Apply our constitution equally to all members.
  • Insist that all officers of the party adhere to party policy.
  • Not elevate any individual or group to the position of Great Leader/s. The party has democratic structures to ensure this does not happen and these must be adhered to.
  • The membership of the party must be trusted.
  • Reject any attempt to resort to the media or other bodies for personal financial gain, when information is sought about the conduct of people involved in the socialist and labour movements.

This conference re-emphasises SSP Conference policy passed on October 20th, 2006

  • SSP members should avoid resort to the state’s courts when seeking redress for politically motivated attacks on their behaviour
  • When SSP members are subjected to politically motivated attacks by the state or media, they should be able to call upon the support of the SSP Executive Committee to conduct a party campaign including the following tactics as deemed appropriate:
    • articles in the party’s press
    • direct appeals to the trade union members in the state bodies and/or media responsible
    • calls for boycott actions
  • SSP members should not resort to the non-party media when making allegations against other SSP members. Such allegations should be brought initially before the appropriate party body at the level concerned with the right to appeal to a higher level, the ultimate appeal being the SSP Conference.

The elected press officer should be responsible for day-to-day responses to the outside media, when members are under attack. The press officer is directly responsible, initially to Executive Committee, then to the National Council, and finally to the National Conference.

Also, the party must now seek to carry through the decision of the post-split 2006 SSP Conference which welcomes back former members without recriminations, especially now that they can clearly see the tragic implications of the misguided actions of Sheridan, Solidarity, SWP and CWI leaderships.

The SSP continues to welcome members from other organisations provided they accept the aims and constitution of the SSP. Platforms and networks in the SSP exist to benefit the party as a whole by encouraging wider debate drawing on varied experiences. Principled unity is our strength. We have a duty to the working class and the cause of socialism to maintain socialist unity and to conduct ourselves in a combative, determined, confident, but friendly manner aimed at convincing thousands that the SSP’s principles and policies coincide with their interests. The future is ours, provided we collectively seize it. (Passed overwhelmingly 20th October 2006).

We must also try to win back the largest group of all – those former members who left the SSP and did not join Solidarity. They have raised criticisms, not only about egotism of Sheridan and the unattractive sectarianism and splitting tactics of the SWP and CWI, but also of those badly misjudged actions of the SSP in attempting to deal with these problems. These former members, many still active in their trade unions, communities and political campaigns, currently form an important bridge to those wider sections of the working class whom we need to win over once more to principled, socialist unity.

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Apr 26 2010

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism

A Reply to Nick Roger’s Workers Unity not Separatism (edited version in Weekly Worker, no. 211)

Independent Action Required to Achieve Genuine Workers’ Unity

First, I would like to thank Nick for the tenor of his contribution to the debate about communist strategy in the states of the UK and the 26 county Irish republic. After our initial sparring in earlier issues of Weekly Worker and on the RCN website Nick’s contribution develops further his own case for a British approach and a British party. (I am still not sure to what extent the alternative and logically more consistent one state/one party stance of having an all-UK party is supported in the CPGB.) Nick also usefully clears up some points himself (e.g. over his attitude to Luxemburgism) and asks a question which is designed to advance the debate. Before going on to the other issues Nick raises, I will therefore answer this question on whether I support breakaway unions in Scotland.

How to win effective union solidarity

I have consistently argued that the struggle to attain effective union organisation can not be reduced to which national flag flies over a union HQ. Most of the Left, in practice, uphold the sovereignty of the union officials located in their existing union HQs, hoping to replace these some day. This is why many of their union campaigns amount to electoral attempts to replace existing union leaderships with Broad Left leaderships. In more and more cases, the latest Broad Left challenges are being mounted against old Broad Left leaderships, suggesting a serious flaw in this strategy!

Of course, many on the Left would say – ‘No’, we champion the sovereignty of the union conference. However, the relationship between most union conferences and their union bureaucracies is very similar to that between Westminster and the government of the day. In both cases, executives only implement what they wish to, whilst systematically undermining any conference/election policies they, or the employers/ruling class, oppose. In the case of unions, this division is accentuated by elected-for-life and appointed officials, who enjoy pay and perks way beyond those of their members – a bit like Cabinet ministers.

Therefore, I uphold the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces – a republican rank and file industrial strategy, if you like. From this viewpoint ‘unofficial’ action, the term used by bureaucrats to undermine members and to reassert their control, is rejected in favour of the term independent action. Action undertaken by branches can be extended by picketing, and by wider delegate or mass meetings. Certainly, this places a considerable responsibility upon the membership in the branches concerned, necessitating their active involvement in strategic and tactical discussion over the possibilities for extending effective action. Furthermore, instead of politics being largely confined to the select few – union bureaucrats and conference attenders – as when unions are affiliated to the Labour Party – politics becomes a vital necessity in workplace branches.

Nick asks, how can the SSP effectively support action by, for example, civil servants who are organised on an all-British union basis, when we are organised on a Scottish political basis? Actually, it is quite easy. The SSP has members on the executives of all-Britain trade unions, and we seek wider unity for effective action with officers and delegates from England and Wales. Indeed, we can go further and state that we would seek cooperation with union members in Northern Ireland, when action involves all-UK unions, such as the FBU. Yet, in the latter case, support for joint action over economic issues should not prevent socialists raising the political issue of Ireland’s breakaway from the UK state. There is an obvious analogy here for the SSP.

Indeed, there are three other territorial union forms in these islands, – Northern Irish unions (e.g. Northern Ireland Public Services Alliance), Irish unions which organise in the North (e.g. Irish National Teachers Union and the Independent Workers Union) and all-islands unions (e.g. UCATT). Nick’s attempt to equate more effective action with all-Britain unions would in no way help socialists to bring about unity in such varied circumstances. Championing the sovereignty of the union branch, and the forging of unity from below in expanding action, offer the best way of achieving this.

Nick mentions the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) – the major teaching union in Scotland, and one of the last unions organised on a Scottish basis. The EIS is affiliated, not only to the STUC, but to the TUC and, although not affiliated to the Labour Party, its leadership has, since the mid 1970’s, been as loyal to Labour as any. The EIS is one of the strongest adherents of ‘social partnership’, with large chunks of its official journal indistinguishable from government/management spin – especially its articles on governmental education initiatives.

Until I retired, I was a member of the EIS, a union rep (shop steward) for 34 years, and served on the union’s Edinburgh Local Executive and National Council. I was also a member of Scottish Rank & File Teachers (until they were sabotaged by the SWP) and later the Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers. I always upheld the sovereignty of the membership in their branches. Furthermore, I was also centrally involved in the largest campaign that rocked the Scottish educational world and the EIS, in 1974. Here, for the first time, I came up against the sort of arguments Nick raises.

The 1974 strike action was organised unofficially/independently. It took place over more than three months, with huge weekly, school delegate-based meetings. We also argued within the official structures of the EIS (whilst even drawing in some members of the two other small unions). It was here that the old CPGB, Labour Party and Militant supporters told us we should end our independent action and confine ourselves to getting motions passed calling on the union leadership to take a national lead.

If we had done this, it is likely there would have been no industrial action at all. As it was, the massive independent action forced the official leadership to move. And it was the independent rank and file movement which sent delegates to schools in England to try and widen the challenge to the Tory government over pay. Labour Party and CPGB union officers, all stalwart Left British unionists, confined official union activity to Scotland!

There is a definite parallel between Nick’s advocacy that the SSP should abandon its own independent organisation and join with the British Left, planning for the ‘big bang’ British/UK revolution they hope for in the future, and those old CPGB, Left Labour and Militant arguments I first faced back in 1974.

The anti-poll tax campaign – ‘internationalism from below’ in action

Some years later, in 1988, I became chair of the first Anti-Poll Tax Federation (Lothians) and co-chair of the conference of the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation. The campaign against the poll tax started a year earlier in Scotland, due to Thatcher’s propensity to impose her own form of devolution here – testing out reactionary legislation in Scotland first.

Militant emerged as the largest political organisation in the Federations. Militant became torn between those who wanted to maintain an all-Britain Labour Party orientation, continuing to prioritise activities inside the party’s official structures, and those who saw the necessity to become involved in independent action through the anti-poll tax unions. Fortunately, it was the latter view that won out.

The negative effect of pursuing a tacitly British unionist strategy was demonstrated by the SWP. Their slogan was – Kinnock and Willis {then TUC General Secretary}- get off your knees and fight (i.e. pushing for others to lead). They argued that only a Britain-wide campaign backed by the official trade union movement could win. When a special Labour Party conference in Glasgow voted against non-payment, the SWP declared the game was over, and some Scottish members went on to pay their poll tax.

The majority in the Federations stuck to their guns and built the independent action first in Scotland, e.g. through non-payment, confronting sheriff officers (bailiffs), etc, and by sending delegations to England and Wales, to prepare people for widened action the following year. Spreading such action from below contributed to the Trafalgar Square riots of March 31st 1990, which put finally paid to the poll tax and to Thatcher.

‘Internationalism from below’, which the SSP International Committee has advocated at the two Republican Socialist Conventions, represents a wider and more politicised development of such actions by our class. Any reading of our documents will show that our ‘internationalism from below’ stance flows from an analysis the concrete political situation, and unlike Nick’s and the CPGB’s stance, does not stem from some abstract attempt to extend a ‘one state/one party’ (or trade union) organisational form over all British/UK socialists; or from a belief in the efficacy of the top-down bureaucratic ‘internationalism’, which is intrinsic to such attempts.

Although rather belated in its formation, the Scottish Socialist Alliance, set up in 1996, directly stemmed from the lessons learned in the anti-poll tax campaign. (Socialist republicans in the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation had argued for the setting up of such organisations from 1990.) Furthermore, contrary to what Nick maintains, far from having a purely Scottish orientation, SSA/SSP members took an active part, providing speakers, to help set up the Socialist Alliances in England, Wales and the Irish Socialist Network. The main obstacles we faced in helping to form new democratic united front organisations came from the British Left!

Perhaps it is also significant that, after addressing large meetings in Scotland, some of the striking Liverpool dockers (1995-8) and their partners said that support here was often wider than in England. Even the response received from the SNP trade union group in Dundee was compared very favourably with the coolness of many Labour Party members closer to home! The SSA was particularly prominent in trying to win solidarity for the dockers in Scotland.

Comparing records in trying to build socialist/communist unity

Now, Nick goes on to make some valid criticisms of the SSA’s successor organisation, the SSP, particularly over its handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair. However, here it is necessary to compare like with like. The CPGB is only a small political organisation with very few connections to the wider working class. In reality it is a socialist/communist propaganda organisation. The SSP, at its height in 2003, united the vast majority of the Left in Scotland, had over a thousand members, won 128,026 votes in the Holyrood election, gained six MSPs and had 2 councillors. It was a party of socialist unity, unlike today when it is an organisation for socialist unity.

When you attempt to organise amongst the wider working class you come under all the immediate political pressures, as well as having to face up to the legacies of past Left traditions. We live in a UK state with a deep-seated imperialist legacy, and where our class has been in retreat in the face of a Capitalist Offensive since 1975.

So, if we are to engage meaningfully amongst the wider class, we have to acknowledge this, and develop a strategy to prevent socialists/communists being dragged back, and to find new openings that enable us to advance both the case and the struggle for a genuine socialist/communist alternative. This means forming definite political platforms. The RCN is a platform in the SSP; the CPGB was part of a platform (Workers Unity) in the SSP. So let’s compare our roles in trying to build wider principled socialist unity.

Now, just as Nick points out that the CPGB has already made many of the criticisms of the SWP and Socialist Party that I raised in my critique, so I will point out that the RCN publicly raised criticisms of the SSP Executive’s handling of the Tommy Sheridan affair, which he also quite rightly criticises. The RCN was the only political organisation to oppose, in principle, socialists’ resort to the bourgeois courts to get legal rulings on how they conduct themselves.

The split, which eventually emerged on the SSP Executive, was about the tactical advisability of a resort to the courts, not against the principle. The Executive, having unanimously warned against such a course of action in this particular case, came to an agreement with Sheridan, who insisted on ignoring this advice. In this agreement, he was allowed to stand down as SSP Convenor in order to pursue his court case as an individual. The Executive hoped this would remove the pressure upon the SSP itself.

This was extremely naïve, showing little understanding of how the state operates. In the case of the CWI/SP, they still haven’t learned this lesson, as their misguided resort to the courts to defend four victimised activists in UNISON has recently highlighted. Back in 2006, the Scottish courts made it quite clear that they made no distinction between the SSP and the activities of its most prominent member. It jailed Alan McCombes for refusing to hand over party minutes covering the Executive decisions on the handling of the Sheridan affair.

This led to a public split on the SSP’s Executive Committee, between those who wanted to continue with Sheridan’s case in the bourgeois courts, and those who could now see that the state held the whip hand. Sheridan was asked to abandon this particularly flawed and potentially disastrous course of action. Unfortunately, with the encouragement of the SWP and the CWI/IS – Sheridan went on regardless, resulting in a split in the SSP. They refused to attend the post-trial Conference organised to address the deep-seated differences, which had emerged in the SSP. Solidarity has been little more than a political ‘marriage of convenience’. You only have to look at the SWP and SP’s continued organisational separation in England, Wales (and Ireland/Northern Ireland) to understand this.

Certainly, mistakes had also been be made by the SSP Executive majority, but these could have been rectified. Indeed, the RCN initiated motion to condemn the resort to bourgeois courts and newspapers to deal with differences amongst socialists was passed at the post-split SSP Conference in 2006.

Ironically, the one issue, which played no part in the split, was the territorial organisational basis of the SSP. The left nationalist Sheridanistas (now the Democratic Green Socialist platform) joined with the Left unionist SWP and with CWI/IS in Solidarity. The Left nationalist influenced (now former) ISM, along with the Left unionist and carelessly named Solidarity platform (!) (AWL), and the republican socialist RCN stayed with the SSP. The left nationalist Scottish Republican Socialist Movement left the SSP to urge support for the SNP, whilst the Left unionist CPGB ended up telling people to vote New Labour in the recent Euro-elections. Yes, a sorry mess!

Now, if ever there was an opportunity for the British Left to make some headway in Scotland, the SSP split this should have been it. However, the CWI/SP had already sabotaged the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales, whilst the final coup-de-grace was administered by the SWP, when it decided to move over to pastures green in Respect. Losing support there to Galloway and his allies (the SWP seemed to have learned nothing about cultivating celebrity politics in Solidarity) they then sabotaged Respect. Perhaps, the one thing Nick and I could agree on, is that a particular organisational form – Scottish or British – provides no guarantee of principled socialist unity! That has to be fought out on the basis of principled politics and democratic methods.

Now, some time after the CPGB’s advocacy of giving no support to either the SSP or Solidarity (to my knowledge it no longer had any members involved at this stage), it came up with its own Campaign for a Marxist Party (CMP). Here surely, given the balance of political forces (much more favourable to the CPGB, than say to the SP or SWP in the old Socialist Alliance, the SWP in Respect, or the SP in No2EU) it should have been able to make some real headway in advancing its own brand of socialist/communist unity politics – the organisational unity of self-declared Marxists in an all-Britain (UK?) party.

However, as every non-CPGB report on the CMP has shown (see New Interventions), the CPGB played an analogous role to the SWP in its front organisations. And, just as in the case of the SWP, there has been no honest attempt to account politically for the demise of the CPGB project in this respect. Instead, we have been given personalised attacks – once again shades of the SWP. From the outside, it looks as if the CPGB was just attempting a new recruiting manoeuvre – much like the SWP.

Now the CMP certainly organised on an all-Britain basis, including the Critique/Marxist Forum group in Glasgow. Yet, far from bringing about greater unity, the CMP experience has only resulted in greater disunity! Nick I’m sure witnessed much of this, and I would think it unlikely that he was entirely happy with the way the CPGB conducted itself. However, this wasn’t an accidental one-off.

Before Nick became involved in the CPGB, there had been an all-Britain RCN, which included the Red Republicans (including myself), the Campaign for a Federal Republic, the CPGB and the RDG. The CPGB, in alliance with the RDG, decided to marginalise those who disagreed with their own ‘federal British republican’ position. In Scotland, federal British republicans were a minority in the RCN, but were still well represented on our Scottish Committee. In England, federal republicans were in a majority, but the CPGB and RDG acted to ensure there were no non-federal republicans on the ‘organising committee’ there (in reality very little organising had gone on).

Their idea was to refashion the RCN into an organisation, which would intervene with the ‘federal British republican’ line in the SSP. The CPGB and RDG had no wider role for the RCN in England. They saw their job as conducting Left British unionist ‘missionary work’ in Scotland only.

A rather unpleasant all-Britain RCN meeting was held in London, and through the votes of CPGB and RDG members, the majority of whom had never lifted a finger for the RCN, they won the day. The RCN in Scotland decided it had had enough of the bureaucratic manoeuvring and withdrew. Even the Scottish members of the Campaign for a Federal Republic members joined with the RCN majority in Scotland, and together we constituted ourselves as the RCN (Scotland).

It is not even necessary to accept my interpretation of these particular events to make a political assessment of the consequences of the split. The RCN now only existed in Scotland. The CPGB and RDG were attempting to link up with the very Left unionist (and social imperialist) AWL, and the Glasgow Critique group which still had members in Scotland, to build a new Left unionist platform within the SSP. An additional advantage was the support they had in England (and Wales).

So, which of the two platforms was able to advance in the SSP? Using Nick’s argument about the obvious superiority of all-Britain political organisations it should have been the CPGB and its allies. Yet this wasn’t the case, despite the CPGB’s hope of also winning the support of other Left unionist organisations in the SSP, such as the SWP (Weekly Worker assiduously tried to court Neil Davidson, the SWP’s leading theoretician in Scotland, then advancing a strong Left unionist politics.)

Now, it could possibly be argued, from a CPGB viewpoint, that the task of winning over the SSP to ‘principled’ British Left organisational unity was just too big a task in the face of the opposition. However, then the fight conducted by the CPGB and its allies should have at least solidified a more united pro-British tendency in Scotland. However, the CPGB soon fell out with the AWL and, after the CMP debacle, with the RDG, also leaving members of the Glasgow Critique/Marxist Forum split! And Nick wonders why I think supporters of British Left unity tend to mirror the bureaucratic methods utilised by the British state!

The historical basis for ‘internationalism from below’

The UK is not just any old state. It was once at the centre of the world’s largest empire upon which the sun never set. Today, it forms the principle ally of US imperialism, the dominant power in the world. Today, the UK is ‘Hapsburg Austria’ to the USA’s ‘Tsarist Russia’.

For the greater part of their political lives, Marx and Engels argued that socialists should make opposition to the Romanov/Hapsburg counter-revolutionary alliance fundamental to their revolutionary project. Support for the Polish struggle to gain political independence, particularly from the Russian and Austrian Empires, was central to Marx and Engels’ strategy. Engels held on to this perspective until the end of his life, opposing the young Rosa Luxemburg on Polish independence, in the process. Socialists need to adopt a similar strategy today towards the US/UK imperial alliance.

It took some time before Marx and Engels came to an understanding of the best method needed to unite socialists organisationally to promote revolution and struggle against reaction and counter-revolution. However, they outlined their most developed position within the First International, when, significantly, they had to confront the British Left of their day. This tendency tried to uphold a ‘one-state/one-party’ stance, when they denied the Irish the right to form their own national organisation within the International. In arguing against a prominent British First International member, Engels argued that:-

The position of Ireland with regard to England was not that of an equal, but that of Poland with regard to Russia… What would be said if the Council called upon Polish sections to acknowledge the supremacy of a Council sitting in Petersburg, or upon Prussian Polish, North Schleswig {Danish} and Alsatian sections to submit to a Federal Council in Berlin… that was not Internationalism, but simply preaching to them submission to the yoke… and attempting to justify and perpetuate the dominion of the conqueror under the cloak of Internationalism. It was sanctioning the belief, only too common amongst English {British} working men, that they were superior beings compared to the Irish, and as much an aristocracy as the mean whites of the Slave States considered themselves to be with regard to the Negroes.

The Second International was formed as the High Imperialism of European dominant-nationality states (German, French and Russian) and top-down imperial national identity sates (British and Belgian) were in the ascendancy. The Second International abandoned Marx and Engels’ ‘internationalism from below’ principle. They adopted a ‘one state/one party’ organisational principle instead, which soon became the conduit for social chauvinist and social imperialist thinking within the social democratic movement.

Luxemburg and Lenin both accepted this new organisational principle. Luxemburg thought, though, that dominant nation chauvinism, which she still recognised, could be combatted by pushing for all-round democratic reforms, without regard to the specific nationalities in any particular state (albeit, as Lenin noticed, with the inconsistent qualification that, after the revolution, Poles should enjoy political autonomy).

Lenin also recognised the dominant nation social chauvinism and social imperialism found in the Second International, but thought this could best be combated through the 1896, Second International Congress decision to uphold ‘the right of nations to self determination’. Lenin thought, though, that any need to actually fight to implement this right was constantly being undermined by ongoing capitalist development, which he thought led to greater working class unity. Furthermore, after any future revolution, national self-determination would not be required, since workers would then want to unite together, initially within the existing state territorial frameworks, after these had been suitably transformed.

However, mainstream Second International figures, as well as Lenin, went on to consider various exceptions to both these organisational and political principles. In the case of some of the major constituent Second International parties, support was sometimes given to non-state parties in other states (often ones in competition with their own imperial bourgeoisies!). In this way the PPS (Poland) and IRSP (Ireland) were able to gain official recognition as Second International Congress delegates.

Lenin, in contrast, tended to support the exercise of self-determination retrospectively, only after he had recognised its political significance, e.g. Norway in 1905, Ireland in 1916. Lenin’s refusal to recognise the real political significance of Left-led national movements within the Russian Empire from 1917 (e.g. Finland and Ukraine), contributed to the isolation of the Revolution, and also to the burgeoning Great Russian bureaucratic character of the new USSR.

Luxemburg’s refusal to get socialists to fight for the leadership of national democratic movements contributed even more to the particular political marginalisation of socialists in Poland, compared say to those ostensibly less revolutionary Finnish socialists. They had been much more brutally crushed in the 1918 White counter-revolution in Finland, than the Polish socialists had been in the imperial backed nationalist revolution there. One reason why Finnish socialists and communists were able to rise from the ashes, is that were still remembered as leaders in the national struggle against Tsarist Russian and German occupation.

The role of an ‘internationalism from below’ strategy in combating the current US/UK imperial alliance

Fast forward to today, and we can see the leading role of US/UK imperialism in the world, promoting the interests of the global corporations. The UK state has been awarded the North Atlantic franchise by the US. Here it operates as spoiler within the EU to prevent it emerging as an imperial competitor to the US. It can even designate Iceland a terrorist state! Through the Peace (or more accurately pacification) Process, UK governments, in alliance with their own junior partners, successive Irish governments, have rolled back the challenge represented by the revolutionary nationalist challenge of the Republican Movement.

Sinn Fein is now a major partner in upholding British rule in ‘the Six Counties’ through their coalition with the reactionary unionist DUP. The ‘Peace Process’ was designed to create the best political environment to ensure that the global corporations can maximise their profits in Ireland. This political strategy has been extended throughout these islands, by the policy of ‘Devolution-all-round’ – Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

This strategy has easily tamed such constitutional nationalist parties as the SNP and Plaid Cymru. The SNP, for example, is pursuing a Devolution-Max policy to uphold Scottish business interests in an accepted global corporate dominated world. The UK state strategy has the full support of the USA, the EU, and trade union leaderships locked in ‘social partnerships’ with their governments and the employers.

The constitutionally unionist form of the UK state places the National Question at the heart of the democratic struggle. Middle class nationalism is continually forced into compromises with unionism and imperialism. (At the height of British imperial world domination, the overwhelming majority of the Scottish and Welsh, and a significant section of the Irish middle classes, could be won over to acceptance of various hyphenated British identities – Scottish-British, Welsh-British and Irish-British – in their shared pursuit of imperial spoils). However, today’s SNP support for the monarchy, and for Scottish regiments in the British imperial army, show that unionist/imperialist pressure can still have an impact. Even the ‘independent’ Irish state has given Shannon Airport over to US imperial forces, particularly for ‘rendition’ flights.

Unfortunately, the CPGB has only the most abstract understanding of the British unionist state. As yet, it doesn’t even fully comprehend the difference between a nation and a nationality. During the 1997 Devolution Referendum campaign, Weekly Worker denied there was such a thing as a Scottish nation, claiming there was only a British nation, in which there lives a Scottish nationality. The existence of a wider Scottish nation, and not just a narrower ethnic Scots nationality, can easily be demonstrated in the well-known Scottish names of Sean Connery, Tom Conti, Shireen Nanjiani and Omar Saeed.

The logic of the CPGB’s position, if it had upheld its own particular version of national self-determination, should have been to argue for the 1997 referendum ballot to be confined to (ethnic) Scots. This would of course brought it into line with the far right nationalist, Siol nan Gaidheal! The CPGB also got itself into so many knots through promoting its own particular sect-front, ‘The Campaign for Genuine Self Determination’, that it buried any report of its end-of-campaign public meeting and rally in Glasgow. This meeting was certainly entertaining, but hardly a triumph for CPGB politics!

Indeed the beginnings of the CPGB’s political decline in Scotland can be identified with this particular meeting, which it was so reluctant to report on. I made an extended political assessment, which was sent to Weekly Worker to review. It declined to do so.

However, the confusion between nation and nationality has been taken to greater lengths in ‘the Six Counties’. Here Jack Conrad has identified a 75% Irish-British nation (!), scoring somewhat higher in the nation stakes than Scotland. The fact that Irish-British nationality identification went into rapid retreat after the Irish War of Independence is just ignored.

What undoubtedly exists in the ‘Six Counties’ today is an ‘Ulster’-British identity, buttressed by official Unionism and unofficial Loyalism alike. However, this relatively new nationality identification isn’t fixed either. There are a minority of ‘Ulster’-British who would happily become fully integrated into the British unionist and imperial state. The majority in the UUP, DUP and TUV, still want to maintain Stormont and other Northern Irish statelet institutions to hopefully ensure continued Protestant Unionist ascendancy. An ultra-reactionary minority has contemplated declaring UDI (Rhodesia style) to form an independent Ulster state, through ethnic cleansing (or, as the relevant UDA document puts it – ‘nullification’). They all, of course, proudly champion the British imperial legacy.

Ironically, there has been a limited rise of British-Irishness in ‘the 26 counties’, particularly in ‘Dublin 4’, amongst former Official Republicans and a new wave if ‘revisionist historians’. Significantly, this usually goes along with support for the UK and the USA in its current ‘anti-terrorist’ (i.e. imperial) adventures. These people represent a similar phenomenon to the Euston Manifesto group, formed in 2006 along with others, by former AWL member, Alan Johnson. The AWL, of course, has gone further even than the CWI in its apologetics for working class Loyalist organisations (anticipating its similar attitude to Zionist Labour organisations), so it is not surprising that it has given birth to strong social unionist and imperialist tendencies. Therefore, as long as the CPGB champions the ‘nation’ rights of this particularly reactionary nationality, it is in danger of following the path of the AWL and the CWI.

Now, the majority of the real Irish-British in ‘the 26 counties’ did eventually become Irish themselves, despite the undoubted barriers posed by the Catholic confessional nature of the state there. This development shows the possibilities of creating Irish national unity, especially if full nationality and religious equality is promoted.

The RCN appreciates the real nature of the UK state, and the strategy being pursued by its ruling class to contain potentially threatening national democratic movements. These can take on a republican form in their opposition to the anti-democratic Crown Powers soon wielded against any effective opposition. The RCN also recognises the need to supplement this by engagement with major social issues. This social republicanism (which needs to be developed by communists into conscious socialist republicanism) isn’t just an added-on extra. The fight against jobs and housing discrimination in the Civil Right Movement, and against the poll tax in Scotland, soon became linked with the national and (latent) republican movements in their respective countries.

When the RCN argues for a challenge to the UK state and to its anti-democratic Crown Powers in Scotland, this stems from a recognition that republican political consciousness is currently higher here (itself a reflection of the importance of the National Question). By way of analogy, in the 1980’s, the wider working class appreciated the more advanced class consciousness of the NUM and recognised they were in the vanguard of the fight, not just to save pits, but against the Thatcher government. The Great Miners’ Strike was itself triggered off by independent action. The job of socialists soon became to organise effective wider solidarity, and generalise this into a wider political struggle against Thatcher.

If socialist republicans in Scotland can take the lead in the political struggle against the UK state, the task of socialists in these islands becomes something similar – to build solidarity and to extend the challenge by breaking each link in the unionist chain. Whether we end up with independent democratic republics (and only weaken imperialism – nevertheless a better basis for future progress than the UK imperial state which exists at present), or are able to move forward to a federation of European socialist republics, depends on the ability of socialists/communists to build ever widening independent class organisation, culminating in workers’ councils.

Abstention from the democratic struggle on the grounds it isn’t specifically ‘socialist’ would be equivalent to abstention in supporting workers fighting for increased wages, on the grounds that they weren’t fighting against the wages system. Socialists/communists can only gain a wider audience by participating in all the economic, social, cultural and political (democratic) struggles facing our class. To do this effectively, socialists throughout these islands need to build on the basis of ‘internationalism from below’.

 __________

Nick Rogers replies to Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee

(Weekly Worker, no. 809)

The very first point I made at the February 13 Republican Socialist Convention in London was that the most pressing task for communists was to build an international working class movement that could challenge the capitalist class globally.

In the letters column of last week’s Weekly Worker I argued that it was necessary to build pan-European workers’ organisations (Blind alley, March 4). The masthead of the Weekly Worker carries the slogan, Towards a Communist Party of the European Union. Yet Allan Armstrong of the Scottish Socialist Party’s international committee characterises my position as Brit left (Left mirror of the UK state Weekly Worker March 4). In this reply I want to explore Allan’s revealing conclusion.

In my original report I criticised the SSP, represented at the February 13 meeting by co-convenor Colin Fox, for refusing to unite in an all-British party to combat the actually existing British state (‘Debating with left nationalists’ Weekly Worker February 18). Granted, Allan advocates united action across the British Isles, but, as he puts it, on the basis of the same kind of relations that Hands Off the People of Iran has established between British and Iranian workers. He asks, Does the CPGB secretly think that joint work cannot be effective because British and Iranian socialist do not live in the same state?

I applaud the work of Hopi, but everyone in that organisation – Iranian, British or whatever – recognises that workers in the two countries face quite different political environments that, for the time being, make unity in one centralised party both undesirable and unrealistic.

The difference between the kind of internationalism that Hopi encourages the British and Iranian workers to engage in and the level of unity workers in Scotland and England require can be illustrated quite simply by considering the nature of their respective struggles.

When Iranian bus, car or oil workers take industrial action, their grievances will generally be very specific to conditions in Iran – albeit sharing common characteristics with workers anywhere, given the drive by capitalist regimes all round the world to step up the neo-liberal assault on workers’ rights. Generous financial support, logistical support where practical, solidarity messages, pickets of the Iranian embassy, etc – actions such as these are what it is feasible for British workers to do. Of course, we also place direct pressure on the British state by opposing sanctions against Iran and any preparations for war. These are the tasks that Hopi has set itself.

If Iranian workers in struggle were facing a western transnational, other types of action become possible, from workers’ sanctions to solidarity industrial action. Since the mullahs and revolutionary guards dominate profit-making activities in Iran, these opportunities are relatively rare.

British workers, by contrast, face capitalist companies that do not respect national boundaries within Britain (and increasingly the boundaries separating European countries). Effective industrial action also has to take place across these boundaries and requires close British and pan-European organisation by workers. In Britain workers confront laws made by the capitalist state – and also laws laid down by the European Union. For many workers the capitalist state is their employer. Defensive actions such as last week’s two-day strike by the Public and Commercial Services union inevitably assume an all-Britain character.

Allan affects to believe that the nature of the joint action by workers in Britain and the solidarity British and Iranian workers can achieve is essentially no different. In that case, what about British-wide unions? Does Allan believe that the struggles of civil servants (or any other group of workers) would be more or less effective if they were split into separate English and Scottish bodies? I honestly do not know Allan’s position on this. Some left nationalists, such as the Scottish Socialist Republican Movement, do advocate forming separate Scottish unions. I have observed that quite often it is the teachers in the SSP – organised, as it happens, in a Scottish union, the Educational Institute of Scotland – who least grasp the merits of Britain-wide industrial organisation. The majority in the SSP has, though, always cautioned against industrial separatism and argued that even Scottish independence would not undermine the rationale for all-Britain unions.

We are some way off a situation where we can contemplate signing up workers in Britain and Iran to the same unions. So it seems we agree that the existence of a British state – and the shared political, social and economic environment that goes along with it – makes the closest possible cooperation between workers in some types of organisation essential.

That leaves us with the rather extraordinary conundrum of explaining why communists – supposedly the most advanced militants of the working class – should unite on a less ambitious scale than workers seeking to defend their immediate economic interests.

For most it is self-evident that civil servants defending their redundancy terms need to organise in the same union against the British state in its role as an employer. How far would civil servants get if the PCS were to be split into separate Scottish, Welsh and English unions and leave the coordination of joint industrial actions to their respective ‘international departments’? I suggest that we would not be expecting anything very dynamic or effective to come of it.

But for the left nationalists in the SSP the proposal that revolutionary socialists need to achieve the same degree of unity in seeking to overthrow that capitalist state and replace it with a workers’ democracy draws forth accusations of ‘unionism’. For them, building joint activities with communists in England and Wales must be left to the SSP’s international committee in case we were to inadvertently imply that a closer form of unity just might be appropriate.

An observation. Allan points to the SSP’s participation in European Anti-Capitalist Alliance in last year’s European elections and the speaker tour they organised for a member of the French New Anti-Capitalist Party. I would say that was a principled stance as far as it went. But when has the SSP ever stood as part of a Britain-wide electoral front in a British general election? What principle allows the SSP to collaborate with European socialists to the extent of forming a common platform, but prohibits a similar step with socialists across Britain?

Allan takes me to task for using the word ‘foreign’ to describe the SSP’s attitude to English communists. He thinks the word carries inherent connotations of xenophobia. What nonsense. The capitalist international system of states is a reality communists are obliged to acknowledge, even while they strive to overcome it. Allan, however, in his refusal to accept that the existence of a British state requires a united struggle by workers against it, departs from reality.

‘Brit left’

So what is the ‘Brit left’? According to Allan the epithet is aimed at those socialists who seek to build party organisations throughout Britain – who try to mirror the UK state in its organisational set-up. Allan admits that this is to apply an old Second and Third International orthodoxy: ie, one party for each state. Within the SSP it struck me as an insult hurled most fiercely at fellow Scots – a jibe implying deficient Scottish patriotism.

Allan sketches out a litany of the failings of ‘Brit left’ organisations: the Socialist Workers Party’s opposition to Hopi, the British nationalism of last year’s ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’ electoral front, the cowardice of Respect and the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party over migrant workers.

What is he driving at? Is he saying that the sectarian failings of the left in Britain are intrinsic to all Britain-wide ventures? The political project of the CPGB could be summed up as advocacy of left unity on the basis of principled politics. The examples of unprincipled left politics that Allan cites could very well be drawn from exposés in the Weekly Worker.

Certainly, the sectarian fragmentation of the left makes a nonsense of attempts to present an effective challenge to capitalism in Britain. Not much of an excuse, though, for the SSP to add a nationalist twist to that fragmentation.

Does the fact that the SSP operates only north of the border really make it immune to much the same failings as ‘London-based’ organisations? What about the whole Tommy Sheridan debacle? It was the leadership of the SSP that built up Tommy as a political superstar. That carried his picture on the masthead of most issues of Scottish Socialist Voice. That incorporated a message from Tommy and his portrait on every election leaflet. That added his name to that of the party on ballot papers. That ran a prominent story about his wedding.

Most in the SSP now accept that the hero-worship of Sheridan was a mistake – a re-evaluation that is rather a case of closing the gate after the horse has bolted. Today the whole organisation pretty much reviles him. I can understand the anger at Tommy Sheridan, but that in its turn does not excuse what is effectively collaboration with state authorities (a British state, moreover) and News International to put the man in prison. A perjury trial, whatever the outcome, is not going to place the SSP back in the big time. It is not even going to remove a martyred Tommy Sheridan from the Scottish political scene.

The fact of the matter is that such get-rich-quick schemes distort the priorities of most of the left in Britain – and internationally for that matter. You could argue that it is Trotsky’s transitional demands – a concept built into the DNA of most so-called revolutionary groups – that provides the excuse to describe any campaign for however modest a reform as a coherent aspect of a revolutionary strategy. I think the tendency towards political opportunism is more deep-rooted than that, but a lack of seriousness about programme is certainly a feature of virtually the whole left, including the revolutionaries in the SSP.

Republicanism

An understanding of the importance of demands around democracy and the part these should play in the strategy for achieving working class power should be at the heart of the programme of a communist party. That programme must take seriously the national question. I think that is a position I have always taken – and certainly before I joined the CPGB. I do not remember ever saying I was a ‘Luxemburgist’ – not that association with Rosa Luxemburg counts as a very severe insult in my book.

Like the rest of the CPGB, I have always maintained as a fundamental principle the right of the Scottish and Welsh people to choose independence. A right which a federal republic would enshrine with Scottish and Welsh parliaments having full powers to decide their future. What Allan has difficulty with is the dialectical subtlety of an approach that defends the right to self-determination, while advocating that the option for separation should not be exercised. Allan describes that as “condescending”.

In fact, paradoxical though it may appear to some, upholding the rights of nations is the only practical strategy for superseding the existing system of states. This is the task that will confront the working class as it seeks to build a world socialist order. What does Allan think this will entail? Would Allan either force nationalities against their will into broader federations or accept indefinitely as a fact of ‘human nature’ the national fragmentation bequeathed by capitalism?

The principle that any nation can choose to withdraw from a larger entity must hold, even after the working class has taken power. It is the only way of assuring all nations that their national and democratic rights will be respected and that they have nothing to fear from the construction of a socialist world.

Of course, there are national situations that pose particular problems. The CPGB supports the right of the Irish people to choose the unity of their island. This is the position we set out in our current Draft programme, as well as in the redrafted version proposed by the Provisional Central Committee. In addition, the majority within our organisation argues that the best way of assuaging the fears of the ‘British-Irish’ is to establish a federal Ireland with the right of self-determination for a British-Irish province covering a smaller geographical area than the current six counties.

I acknowledge the majority’s attempt to apply political principle consistently. However, I think there are problems with a formulation the leaves open the possibility of a repartitioned Ireland in which the rights of an Irish minority in a new Protestant statelet might not be guaranteed. As always, we will continue to debate our differences with the objective of achieving greater clarity.

The national rights of Scotland and Wales pose no problems of this kind. Their national boundaries are not in question. People in Scotland or Wales who regard themselves as English are unlikely to suffer any oppression – although grievances around the division of state resources might well exacerbate national tensions in the short term.

But what is the prospect for independence in Scotland? We were told at the convention that the most recent polls report support at levels of 37%. This is where support for independence has plateaued for the last decade or two. Occasionally, polls show support for independence spiking higher, but usually it oscillates around the mid-30s.

Clearly, there is a national question, but as things stand the Scottish people do not want separation. Yet left nationalists such as Allan argue that the key task for socialists north of the border – a task which justifies splitting the organisations of revolutionary socialists in the face of a very united British state – must be to win a majority of Scots to see the benefits of breaking with England.

This strategy is dressed up as an assault on British imperialism. Allan at least has the honesty to acknowledge that independence under the Scottish National Party would not involve a break with the circuits of international capitalism. But that is precisely the form in which independence is most likely to be delivered. According to Colin Fox, even an independent capitalist Scotland would be more progressive than the current British state.

Even if that were true (it is not), a communist programme must be more ambitious than that. Allan talks in terms of taking “the leadership of the national movement here from the SNP”. How about taking the leadership of the working class movement throughout Britain and Europe?

Allan criticises the tactics of the CPGB during last year’s European elections. However, contrary to his assertion, the CPGB did raise the question of migration. It is simply that the sticking point with the Socialist Party candidates in No2EU was around the right to bear arms. I was critical of making that the key issue in those elections, when it was the nationalism of No2EU that should have retained the focus of our tactics (‘Against sectarianism’ Weekly Worker June 18 2009).

But raising the demand that the British state’s monopoly of armed force should be broken is key to a republican agenda. It exposes the undemocratic nature of the rule of the capitalist class and, therefore, has far more radical potential than the separatism to which Allan aspires. It is the kind of republican politics that can lead the working class to challenge for state power. That is the prize for which all communists should strive.

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